Legislation Targets Mental Health Effects of COVID-19

Lawmakers want to expand telehealth options for children, cognitive research.

Mental health care for children and research on COVID-19 effects on brain function would get more attention and federal funding through new legislation.

The new bipartisan Medicaid Ensuring Necessary Telehealth is Available Long-term (MENTAL) Health for Kids and Underserved Act would direct the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to issue guidance to states on increasing access to mental and behavioral health services and treatment via telehealth under Medicaid and its Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The bill is needed to address “major disruptions” the COVID-19 pandemic caused in development of children, the sponsors said.

“As a result of the pandemic, kids across the country – especially those in underserved communities – have faced major disruptions to their educational and behavioral development, and schools have not had the resources they need,” Sen. Sherrod Brown said in a press release. “We need to expand behavioral telehealth options for students, and this is one commonsense, bipartisan step to do that.”

Brown, an Ohio Democrat, introduced the legislation with Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland.

The bill would request guidance on how states can furnish behavioral services and treatments in school-based settings and best practices for integration. It focuses on those most at risk including underserved Americans and school-aged children, according to the lawmakers’ offices.

Brown, with Sen. Bill Cassidy, MD, R-Louisiana, and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, is co-sponsoring the Brycen Gray and Ben Price COVID-19 Cognitive Research Act. It would authorize the National Science Foundation to fund research on mental illnesses associated with both short-term and long-term COVID–19 infections among adults, children and adolescents.

“The pandemic showed us the need to prioritize mental health and support those suffering,” Cassidy said in a press release. “Our bill increases research into COVID’s short- and long-term impacts on mental health and effects on the brain.”

The lawmakers said they named the bill for Illinois native Ben Price and Ohio native Brycen Gray, both of whom had no history of mental illness, but took their own lives after suffering from COVID-19.

Duckworth called it a tragic loss. Her announcement included a statement from Jennifer Price, widow of Ben Price.

“The importance of this bill cannot be overlooked,” Jennifer Price said in a press release. “The neurological impact of COVID is great and has impacted and devastated many families like mine. Had I known about COVID Psychosis and the neurological impact that COVID had on the brain my husband would be here today. Knowledge is power but without action it’s useless. We need action to help save more lives.”

Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, an Ohio Republican, sponsored bipartisan companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

This article was originally published by sister publication Medical Economics.