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Coronavirus Stimulus Package Includes Advances For Addiction

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Some help is on the way for communities dealing with addiction in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new stimulus package (H.R. 748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act) has been signed into law. In addition to providing funding for health care providers fighting the outbreak and helping employees and businesses impacted economically, the bill includes several provisions that will help people with substance use disorders (SUDs) and the health care professionals who care for them. Congress has recognized that people with SUDs are especially vulnerable during the crisis, and economic hardship is likely to expand the SUD crisis further.

Here are two big developments:

  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will receive $425 million to address mental health and substance use disorder needs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, including:
    • $250 million for Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics to increase access to mental health care services.
    • $50 million for suicide prevention, to provide increased support for those most in need of intervention.
    • $100 million in emergency response grants, flexible funding to address mental health and substance use disorders, as well as to provide resources and support to youth and the homeless, throughout the pandemic.
  • Certain federal privacy restrictions, called 42 CFR Part 2, have been revamped to allow health professionals who treat substance use disorders to share patient records for care coordination purposes, if a patient consents. At a time when treatment is increasingly provided remotely, and when any one patient may be receiving care from multiple providers, this will help streamline things. The provision includes strong patients’ privacy protections under HIPAA, and law enforcement are prohibited from using patient records for investigations.

And these additional temporary provisions will last for the COVID-19 emergency period:

  • Medicare telehealth services have been expanded, so that you no longer have to be an existing patient of a given doctor in order to access telehealth care.
  • Federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics can now provide telehealth consultations, and Medicare would be able to reimburse for these services.
  • The Medicaid Community Mental Health Services demonstration, which provides coordinated care to patients with mental health and substance use disorders, has been extended through November 30, 2020.
  • To help isolated veterans, the VA has been authorized to expand telehealth mental health services, and to enter into short short-term agreements with telecommunication companies to provide these vets with temporary broadband services.
  • $275 million will expand services and capacity for rural hospitals, telehealth, poison control centers, and the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program. Community health centers are also authorized to use 2020 funding to maintain or increase staffing and capacity during the coronavirus outbreak.