The U.S. Capitol building
The US Capitol. (Photo: Getty Images)

Older adults are less likely than younger cohorts to use mental health services, but that fact often may be due to a lack of accessibility. 

To make sure seniors are getting the mental health treatment they need, a bipartisan group of US senators has reintroduced a bill that would remove current restrictions on virtual mental healthcare — telemental health — for Medicare recipients.

The bill, named the Telemental Health Care Access Act, would remove the requirement of having at least one-person visit before getting Medicare coverage for digital mental health services. 

Easier access to telehealth mental health services also could allow senior living operators to make more referrals for residents; most assisted living communities do not currently offer mental health services directly, McKnight’s Senior Living has noted

The four lawmakers who reintroduced the bill are Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Tina Smith (D-MN) and John Thune (R-SD). 

“Telehealth has proved to be an important lifeline and tool to close some of the most significant gaps in patients’ access to health care services,” Smith said in a statement. “This bill is an important step in making it easier for mental health patients on Medicare to ask for help and get the care they need, without having to jump through administrative hoops.”

The measure now is one of several pieces of legislation being considered that are designed to expand telehealth access for older adults. 

Sixty senators announced their support for a telehealth expansion bill, the CONNECT for Health Act of 2023, that was reintroduced last summer. That bill also would remove in-person service requirements. 

Telehealth and telemedicine were critical for older adults during the pandemic, but many temporary provisions made during that time are now set to expire at the end of this year.

One recent partnership between telehealth provider Rippl Care and McLean Hospital aims to train caregivers in order to provide more mental health services to seniors with dementia, the McKnight’s Tech Daily recently reported.