RELEASE: Demand for Telemental Health Services Surges as COVID-19 Exposes the System’s Vulnerabilities

Washington, D.C. — Today, the Center for American Progress released a new column looking at how the coronavirus pandemic is shining a light on America’s already fragile telemental health care system amid a surge of social-emotional mental health needs. The analysis looks specifically at the barriers to accessing telemental health care, biased reimbursement rules that limit access to telemental health services, and the need to ensure greater connectivity and privacy protections for patients seeking telehealth and web-based supports. The piece comes on the heels of a recent CAP column that examined how, even prior to the pandemic, America’s mental health care system was fragmented, unaffordable, and inaccessible for millions of Americans.

The new column includes the following key policy recommendations:

  • Boost payments for telehealth services for patients with Medicaid and private insurance coverage.
  • Consider innovative alternative payment models to promote efficient and high-quality telemental health.
  • The Federal Communications Commission should expand eligibility for the Lifeline program to bridge the digital divide in connectivity by filling in the coverage gaps for low-income families, among other steps; provide unlimited free minutes and text for enrollees; and prohibit disconnections for Lifeline customers during the crisis and for at least three months afterward.
  • Ensure patient privacy by mandating end-to-end encryption and password protection for web-based telemental health services; enforce the Federal Trade Commission Act to rigorously investigate mental health apps that make false claims about the services they provide; and pass an expanded Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) framework to safeguard personally identifiable health information.

Please click here to read “The Coronavirus Pandemic Has Exacerbated Existing Weaknesses in Telemental Health” by Nicole Rapfogel and Azza Altiraifi.

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Colin Seeberger at or 202-741-6292.