Bill would expand mental health services

Legislation to expand access to mental health services through telemedicine in frontier states on a permanent basis has been introduced in Congress in the wake of a poll that found many people are suffering from stress issues because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eligibility under the Frontier Community Act would be open to states where at least 50 percent of counties have an average population density of six individuals or fewer per square mile. Those meeting this criterion as “frontier states” include Alaska, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that nearly half the adult population in the United States indicated a negative impact on their mental health stemming from concern and stress about the coronavirus.

The legislation was introduced by Senators Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Jacky Rosen, D-Nevada, in the Senate, with a companion bill in the House from Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska.

The Frontier Community Act would direct the Federal Communications Commission and U.S. Department of Agriculture, in consultation with the Indian Health Service and Health Resources and Services Administration, to award grants for broadband infrastructure and additional telehealth flexibility for IHS facilities.

The legislation is endorsed by a number of national advocates for mental health services, including the American Psychological Association. Alaska groups endorsing the bill include the Alaska Behavioral Health Association, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, the Alaska Native Health Board and the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority.