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Sen. Franken Backs Bipartisan Bill to Increase Mental Health Access for Rural Seniors

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Today, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D.Minn.) announced that he is backing a new bill to help put an end to current shortages of mental health professionals for seniors in rural Minnesota. Nationwide, over 89.3 million Americans live in areas that have been designated by the Department of Health and Human Services as having shortages of mental health professionals.

The Seniors Mental Health Access Improvement Act would expand the pool of mental health practitioners in underserved communities by lifting some of the current reimbursement restrictions for licensed mental health counselors and certain other licensed therapists. This will increase access to existing mental health professionals, particularly for people in underserved areas.

"I'm working hard to make sure that critical mental health services are as accessible as possible for our seniors, no matter where they live in Minnesota," said Sen. Franken. "This bill will allow seniors to get the care they need. I'm proud to support it."

In Minnesota there are 53 Mental Health Profession Shortage Areas, where seniors have limited access to mental health professionals such as psychiatrists and psychologists. Two thirds of all Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas are in rural areas.

In Minnesota alone, this bill will allow more than 2371 mental health professionals to begin accepting Medicare patients. Mental health professionals are already recognized by other government agencies such as the National Health Service Corps, the Veterans Administration, and TRICARE.

The Seniors Mental Health Access Improvement Act was originally introduced by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and John Barasso (R-Wyo.).

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