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Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, I am honored to join my colleague from Wyoming, Senator John Barrasso, in introducing a bill essential to enhancing the delivery of mental health services to our senior citizens, The Seniors Mental Health Access Improvement Act.
Currently, there are limitations on the types of mental health practitioners who may be reimbursed for services in the Medicare program. Our legislation permits mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists to bill Medicare for their services, and it pays them at the rate of clinical social workers. With this legislation, seniors will have more opportunities as part of their Medicare benefit to access professional mental health counseling assistance.
Throughout the United States there are approximately 77 million older adults living in 3,000 so-called ``mental health profession shortage areas.'' Moreover, 50 percent of rural counties have no practicing psychiatrists or psychologists. Seniors living in these areas will be the primary beneficiaries of our efforts.
Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists are often the only mental health providers in some communities, and yet presently they are not recognized as covered providers within the Medicare program. These therapists have equivalent or greater training, education and practice rights as some existing provider groups that can bill for their services through Medicare.
Additionally, other government agencies, including The National Health Service Corps, the Veteran's Administration and TRICARE, already recognize these mental health professionals and reimburse for their services. We need to utilize the skills of these providers and ensure that seniors have access to them. These professionals play a critical role in the delivery of our Nation's mental health care.
In Oregon, the passage of this legislation will focus the talents of over 2,000 additional qualified providers on the mental health issues of one of our most vulnerable populations. This represents a commonsense approach to relieving a persistent and chronic healthcare workforce shortage.
Finally, I commend our mental health professionals nationwide, for their dedicated work and efforts, and I encourage passage of this legislation.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the Record.
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