This month, Representative Curtis (R-UT) introduced legislation with House Energy and Commerce Committee colleague, Representative Scott Peters (D-CA), to permanently provide tele-behavioral healthcare to those suffering with substance use disorder. The legislation specifically allows Medicare providers to prescribe Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) through telehealth without an initial in-person visit.
“This sends a clear message to Americans struggling to overcome the vicious cycle of addiction that Washington has their backs,” said Rep. Curtis. “The opioid epidemic continues to be the millstone around the necks of communities across the United States, especially in rural Utah, and patients are desperately searching for resources to overcome their addiction. I have been encouraged by the telehealth flexibilities offered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and will continue my fight to ensure some of the most critical services, like tele-behavioral healthcare and tele-MAT, remain permanently available to Americans across the country.”
“For those struggling with a substance abuse disorder, the ability for doctors to provide treatment and behavioral healthcare through telehealth services has become invaluable,” said Rep. Peters. “I’m pleased to join Rep. Curtis in introducing this legislation to help ensure Americans working towards recovery can access quick, high-quality resources when they need them most.”
Medication Assisted Treatment, or MAT, helps individuals suffering with substance use disorder manage their withdraw symptoms. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) waived regulations on telehealth care that previously prohibited individuals from seeking care from the convenience of their own homes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has addressed healthcare access issues throughout the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE), especially to those living in rural communities.
The PHE specifically offered patients struggling with opioid-use disorder the option of being prescribed buprenorphine, a form of MAT, through telehealth without an initial in-person visit by a provider qualified to prescribe the medication.
Representative Curtis’ legislation would make this policy permanent, giving millions of Medicare-aged individuals struggling with the crippling effects of opioid-use disorder access to cost-effective treatment options without lengthy delays. The legislation would also require the federal government to study prescribing trends and focuses on striking the appropriate balance between offering proven treatment options to patients in need, especially in rural communities that have been especially hard hit by the opioid epidemic, and protecting against fraud, waste, and abuse.
This furthermore comes at a time in which overdose rates have climbed by more than thirty percent year-over-year during the COVID-19 pandemic, accounting for nearly one-hundred thousand deaths and serving as the fourth-leading cause of death this past year. This legislation continues Curtis’ push to make telehealth care more widely available to Utahns across the state and to bolster federal behavioral healthcare resources for communities in need.