Federal Bill Seeks Greater Access to Mental Health Care for SNF Residents, Other Older Adults

A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers has introduced a bill aimed at increasing access to mental health services for older adults, including those residing in skilled nursing facilities (SNFs).

Dubbed the Increasing Mental Health Options Act of 2022, the legislation seeks to ensure that Medicare beneficiaries have access to psychologists and can receive mental health services regardless of their care setting. Currently Medicare does not recognize psychologists as independent clinical providers across all settings.

“As a psychologist myself, I know the benefit that psychologists can bring to their patients, which is why I am proud that our bill will allow these qualified providers to provide top-notch care to Medicare beneficiaries in various settings, from skilled nursing facilities to inpatient psychiatric facilities,” Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-Cal.), who is a co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement.


The bill comes as rates of anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions among seniors continues to skyrocket. Over 25% of adults ages 65 to 74 report feelings of anxiety or depression, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report.

“Mental health care is as essential as physical health care, and yet despite the nationwide shortage of mental health providers, psychologists are limited in their ability to operate at their full scope of practice in the Medicare program,” Chu said.

Overall, the bill has four co-sponsors. In the House, its other supporters include Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Jason Smith (R-MO), among others. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced a Senate version of the bill as well.


Substance use disorder (SUD) is also a concern for seniors. The rate of deaths from drug overdoses among people 65 and older have tripled over the last two decades, according to recent CDC data.

Recently there has been an increased focus in providing mental health care for seniors and Medicare recipients.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a new proposed rule for Medicare Advantage (MA) focused on expanding access to behavioral health services and whole-person health.

Specifically, the proposal seeks to bolster behavioral health network adequacy requirements by adding clinical psychologists, licensed clinical social workers and prescribers of medication for opioid use disorder (OUD) to the list of evaluated specialties under MA.

Senior-focused care companies have also begun to incorporate behavioral health services into their offerings.

For example, value-based primary care company Oak Street Health and senior care provider Elara Caring have both taken an integrated approach to meeting senior’s behavioral health needs.

And some skilled nursing operators have taken steps to serve the older adult population with dedicated behavioral health offerings. The market need is tremendous, Michael Bailey, CEO of American Health Partners, said at the recent Aging Media Network CONTINUUM event. American Health Partners operates SNFs and psychiatric hospitals dedicated to older adults.

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