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The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday released a bipartisan-supported discussion draft bill that aims to increase mental health access and improve mental health workforce shortages.

The draft bill proposes to fill the gap in mental healthcare worker shortages by funding training for 400 additional Medicare Graduate Medical Education psychiatric slots for residencies per year beginning Oct. 1, 2024. Over a decade, 4,000 psychiatric residencies would be supported by the funding, according to the bill.

The legislation comes as the Biden Administration aims to tackle the country’s worsening mental health crisis. Exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, almost 53 million Americans in 2020 reported being effected by mental illness, according to the HHS. In March, Biden signaled a need for parity in coverage for physical and mental health during his State of the Union speech after the House held a series of hearings outlining the country’s mental health crisis earlier in the year.

This week, the HHS announced a roadmap to incorporate mental healthcare services more broadly into the U.S. healthcare system.

In addition to boosting the mental health workforce, the legislation also proposes to grant Medicare coverage for marriage therapists, family therapists and licensed professional counselors. For the first time, it would also allow licensed clinical social workers to bill Medicare for behavioral assessments and intervention services starting Jan. 1, 2024.

The legislation would increase bonus payments given by Medicare’s Health Professional Shortage Area program to psychiatrists who practice in shortage areas. It also allows non-physician providers, like clinical social workers and psychologists, to receive the shortage bonuses.

Hospitals would also be allowed to give evidence-pased therapeutic programs for their own healthcare workers to address worker burnout under an exception to Stark Law proposed by the legislation. Stark Law prohibits physicians from referring patients for services payable by Medicare or Medicaid to other physicians that they have a financial relationship with.

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