July 1, 2020

Whitehouse Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to Increase Access to Telehealth Services for Substance Use Disorder Treatment

Whitehouse, Portman continue longstanding partnership to combat opioid addiction crisis

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rob Portman (R-OH) have introduced the bipartisan Telehealth Response for E-prescribing Addiction Therapy Services (TREATS) Act to support the expansion of telehealth services for substance use disorder treatment.  The bill would build upon previous federal action to waive regulatory restrictions for accessing care during the COVID-19 pandemic.  While the temporary waivers provide a necessary reprieve for patients so they can continue treatments and counseling virtually, the waivers are time-limited and will ultimately expire at the conclusion of the Public Health Emergency.

The TREATS Act would extend telehealth flexibilities by making permanent key waivers, including the ability to prescribe Medication Assisted Therapies (MAT) and other necessary drugs without needing a prior in-person visit and the ability to bill Medicare for audio-only telehealth services.  By taking these steps, the TREATS Act will increase overall access to MAT and support telehealth needs in rural communities with limited access.

“Overdoses have taken a heartbreaking toll in Rhode Island since the coronavirus pandemic began.  Telehealth sessions have been a lifeline for those walking the long road to recovery during a stressful, isolating time,” said Whitehouse.  “Our bipartisan legislation would ensure that recovery support continues to be widely available from the comfort of home after the pandemic wanes.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives and the increase in overdoses we’re seeing only increases the need for additional flexibility to help those suffering from addiction.  I’ve had the opportunity to hear about the successes of telehealth in treating substance use disorder directly from behavioral health providers who have continued their fight against the addiction epidemic amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” said Portman.  “The roll out of telehealth waivers has both helped patients maintain access to care safely at home and increased access to care for those that didn’t otherwise have access to in-person treatment.  As we move forward and look to life beyond this pandemic, we must make sure that the advances to care and access that telehealth is currently providing is not lost and that’s exactly what this bill will do.  I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this common-sense legislation to make telehealth a permanent part of substance abuse disorder treatment.”

Whitehouse and Portman have a long history of working together to combat the opioid addiction crisis.  Whitehouse and Portman co-authored the landmark bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), the sweeping legislation guiding the federal response to the opioid epidemic, which was signed into law in 2016.  The Senators introduced a sequel bill, CARA 2.0, in 2018 to implement further policy changes and authorize additional funding. 

“We thank Senators Whitehouse and Portman for introducing the TREATS Act which will expand the availability of telehealth.  Since the implementation of telehealth, providers have reported an increase in access to and utilization of substance use disorder treatment, reduction in hospitalizations and emergency room visits, and increased client engagement.  It is shown to be an essential compliment to existing treatment and recovery services, especially during these uncertain times,” said Susan A. Storti, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, CARN-AP, President and CEO of The Substance Use and Mental Health Leadership Council of Rhode Island.

Accidental overdose deaths in Rhode Island increased by about 22 percent year over year in the first quarter of 2020, according to provisional data released by the Rhode Island Department of Health.

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