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Escobar, Moulton, Turner Lead Bipartisan Letter Urging DoD to Expand TRICARE Telehealth Services During COVID-19 Pandemic

El Paso, May 1, 2020
“Servicemembers and their families deserve access to the safest care, and right now that means access to telehealth services.”
Members of the House Armed Services Committee Representatives Veronica Escobar (D-TX), Seth Moulton (D-MA), and Mike Turner (R-OH) led a bipartisan group of lawmakers urging the Department of Defense’s Defense Health Agency (DHA) to permit telehealth services for servicemembers and their families under TRICARE during the COVID-19 National State of Emergency.

The letter, which was sent to Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Thomas McCaffery, highlights the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation to increase use of telehealth services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and urges the expansion of telemental health services at all outpatient levels of care including intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) and partial hospitalization programs (PHPs). 

“TRICARE currently only permits military members and their families battling serious mental illnesses to access more intensive outpatient treatment like PHP in-person, forcing beneficiaries to choose between protecting their physical health and receiving mental health treatment,” the lawmakers wrote. 

The lawmakers continued, “Left untreated, mental illness doubles a person’s risk or a heart attack and stroke amongst other co-morbidities, increases Emergency Rooms admissions, and enhances risk factors for suicide with 90% of suicides directly attributable to untreated mental illness. This combined with a surge in anxiety and depression stemming from COVID-19 necessitate that steps be taken to ensure that military members and their families affected by mental illness are able to remotely access mental health care while protecting their physical health.”

The lawmakers close the letter urging the DHA to implement similar measures as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services through expanded telehealth services for all levels of care while ensuring payment parity for telehealth services, stating that, “Servicemembers and their families deserve access to the safest care, and right now that means access to telehealth services.”

Joining the lawmakers leading the letter are 30 members of the House Armed Services Committee: Representatives Jack Bergman (R-MI), Rob Bishop (D-GA), Anthony G. Brown (D-MD), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Liz Cheney (R-WY), Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr (D-CA), Paul Cook (R-CA), Joe Courtney (D-CT), Jason Crow (D-CO), Susan A. Davis (D-CA), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Deb Haaland (D-NM), Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), Kendra S. Horn (D-OK), Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), William R. Keating (D-MA), Andy Kim (D-NJ), Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Rick Larsen (D-WA), Elaine G. Luria (D-VA), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM), Lori Trahan (D-MA), Filemon Vela (D-TX), Joe Wilson (R-SC), and Michael Waltz (R-FL).

You can find the full text of the letter here.
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