Tester sponsors bill to increase mental health services for Montana seniors

Senator works to improve quality of life for senior citizens

(U.S. Senate) – During National Suicide Prevention Month, Senator Jon Tester is working hard to increase access to mental health care services for Montana seniors.

Tester is sponsoring a bipartisan bill, the Seniors Mental Health Access Improvement Act, to allow Medicare to cover mental health care services provided by marriage and family therapists (MFT) and licensed professional counselors (LPC). Currently, federal law excludes MFTs and LPCs from providing Medicare-funded mental health care, forcing seniors to see a primary care physician or perhaps even go without mental health treatment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 20 percent of people age 55 or older experience some type of mental health concern and men aged 85 years or older have the highest suicide rate of any age group.

“As folks age it’s critical they have access to mental health care so they can live happy and independent lives ,” Tester said. “This bipartisan bill provides Montana seniors with more health care options and allows experts to treat patients who are struggling.”

Tester’s bill would allow Medicare to reimburse MFTs and LPCs at 75 percent of the physician rate, which is the same reimbursement rate for social workers.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that 55 percent of U.S. counties have no practicing psychiatrists, psychologists, or social workers-leaving seniors with limited access to mental health services.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that there are 60,000 MFTs and 140,000 LPCs across the country, but none can bill Medicare for providing mental health services to seniors.

The Seniors Mental Health Access Improvement Act is cosponsored by Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), John Barasso (R-Wyo.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).