Portman, Whitehouse Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Increase Access to Telehealth Services for Substance Use Disorder Treatment 

February 22, 2021 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the 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 the Trump Administration’s action to waive regulatory restrictions for accessing care in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the temporary waivers provide a necessary reprieve for patients so that they may continue their treatments and counseling virtually, they are time-limited and will ultimately expire at the conclusion of the Public Health Emergency. 

The TREATS Act would extend these 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 where broadband may be needed. 

“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 rollout of telehealth waivers has both helped patients maintain access to care safely at home and increased access to care for those who 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 are 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.” 

“Overdoses have taken a heartbreaking toll on families from every walk of life during the pandemic,” said Whitehouse.  “One of the few bright spots has been the expansion of telehealth services, which are nothing short of a lifeline for Rhode Islanders in recovery.  Our bipartisan bill would allow remote behavioral health treatment to continue after the pandemic wanes.”

“We applaud Senators Portman and Whitehouse for their leadership in introducing the Telehealth Response for E-prescribing Addiction Therapy Services Act, which will expand access to treatment for substance use disorder through the use of telemedicine—and, ultimately, promote remission and recovery from addiction and save lives,” said Paul H. Earley, MD, DFASAM, president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

The legislation is supported by: American Society for Addiction Medicine, National Safety Council, Community Catalyst, Boston Medical Center, National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers, Shatterproof and The Kennedy Forum