A new bill introduced this week in the House seeks to give Medicaid programs more leeway to treat substance abuse issues through telehealth. It may become part of the massive Opioid Crisis Response Act making its way through Congress.

– As Congress lurches toward voting on legislation to tackle the nation’s opioid crisis, a bill newly introduced in the House aims to help state Medicaid programs use telehealth to treat people with substance abuse issues.

Rep Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) this week introduced the Medicaid Substance Use Disorder Treatment via Telehealth Act. The bill has three primary goals:

  • It would direct the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to guide states on options for providing services via telehealth that address substance use disorders under Medicaid;
  • It would direct the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to evaluate children’s access to Medicaid services to treat substance use disorders, including options to improve access through telehealth; and
  • It would direct CMS to report to Congress on best practices and potential solutions to barriers to furnishing services to children via telehealth to compare services delivered via telehealth to in-person.

“If we are going to combat the opioid epidemic in this country, we need to close the treatment gap,” Luján said in a press release. “Leveraging telehealth is one commonsense way we can increase people’s access to care as we work to grow the number of treatment facilities in rural and underserved areas. This legislation provides tools to states like New Mexico so they can expand treatment for Medicaid beneficiaries. It’s one step in a number of comprehensive actions Congress needs to take so that more families get the care they need and deserve.”

Luján’s bill mirrors one introduced this past May in the Senate by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.). That bill, also called the Medicaid Substance Use Disorder Treatment via Telehealth Act (S.2904), is included in the Senate’s SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (H.R. 6).