legislation to expand mental health services for health care workers advances through committee markup

Bill to expand mental health services for health care workers passes committee

tired doctor covid
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Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health and physician burnout has been a growing concern.

A recent survey reported that 22 percent of health care workers have experience depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, and 76 percent are experiencing burnout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today, the House Ways and Means Committee advanced bipartisan legislation authored by U.S. Reps. Raul Ruiz (CA-36), Larry Bucshon (IN-08), Don Beyer (VA-08) and Greg Murphy (NC-03) that would expand access to critical mental health programs for many providers carrying an increased burden and workload during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Physician Wellness Program Act, H.R. 8890, would remove barriers that oftentimes prevent physicians from accessing wellness programs.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our health care heroes have served on the frontlines of this public health crisis under immense pressure, risking their own lives to protect our nation’s health,” said Rep. Ruiz. “With rising rates of depression, burnout, anxiety and PTSD reported among physicians and other health care workers, it is crucial that we provide them with the mental health care and resources they need.”

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden signed into law the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, which establishes a variety of grant programs for health care providers.

However, regulations under the physician self-referral law and the federal anti-kickback statute prevent physicians who are part of a hospital’s medical staff – but are not directly employed by the hospital – from accessing mental health care programs provided by the hospital, such as mental health care services, counseling, suicide prevention programs and substance use disorder treatment for health care providers.

“Our nation’s doctors put their lives on the line every day to help patients in need. With record levels of stress, burnout and other mental health issues being reported by providers across America, these everyday heroes need adequate support so they can continue to help others,” said Rep. Bucshon.

Rep. Beyer said that Congress needs to do more to support health professionals.

“Our bill would boost wellness and access to mental health resources for those who provide essential care to our society, to ensure they get the help they need as they work to keep the rest of us healthy,” said Beyer.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.