Health Legislation Moves Forward

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The coronavirus pandemic has consumed the attention of the country, but health care challenges that existed before COVID-19 ever came about remain. Some of them have been aggravated by the pandemic, while others have faded from the spotlight despite not declining in seriousness. Without detracting from the serious threat posed by the coronavirus, I want to report to you action taken by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on these important matters.

The committee convened on September 9 for a markup. It was held virtually, and I and some other members participated in the meeting from the committee’s hearing room in Washington.

Thirty-eight bills were ultimately considered and reported to the full House of Representatives, and over half of them related to health care. They were bipartisan and received widespread backing from the committee.

Mental health has come into a sharper focus during the pandemic as stress and isolation have exacted a toll from people. A COVID Response Tracking Study poll conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago found that less than half of Americans aged 18 through 34 consider their mental health to be excellent or very good.

For those who are struggling with a mental health crisis, access to help is indispensable. Access is the purpose behind H.R. 945, the Mental Health Access Improvement Act, a bill I cosponsored and for which I offered revised language in order to pass the committee at the markup. It would provide coverage of mental health counselor services under Medicare Part B and passed the committee unanimously.

Other legislation related to mental health also advanced out of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Among other policies, these bills would expand services for students, require the development of best practices for schools to establish and use behavioral intervention teams, and establish grant programs.

Passage of these bills, which comes after a June 30 Subcommittee on Health hearing on the issue, represents a strong commitment by my colleagues and I to improving mental health services in the United States.

This month was an appropriate time to hold a markup, as September is National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month. As you know, substance abuse is often related to mental health issues. Further, several of the bills we advanced take aim at the opioid epidemic that continues to hurt too many.

The old culprits, such as the increased availability of fentanyl, have been abetted by the coronavirus. Data collected by the University of Baltimore’s Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program found in August that drug overdoses have risen by about eighteen percent during the pandemic. Stay at home orders and prohibitions on gatherings have deprived individuals recovering from substance abuse of their support networks.

To prevent relapses, the Trump Administration has eased restrictions on telehealth for counseling and addiction treatment, and the CARES Act included emergency funding for prevention, treatment, and recovery services during the pandemic.

In addition to these moves addressing the immediate surge in overdoses, the bills passed during the markup continue the committee’s longstanding bipartisan efforts to resolve the opioid crisis.

During our investigation of the opioid epidemic, part of which I led, we found that the abuse of legal opioid manufacturing and distribution caused much of the harm.

A bill I introduced, H.R. 4812, the Ensuring Compliance Against Drug Diversion Act, would limit the transfer of registrations to manufacture, distribute, or dispense controlled substances. It was reported out of committee unanimously.

Other bills would require more action from manufacturers and distributors who receive suspicious orders and allow the U.S. Attorney General to prohibit a registrant from manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing a controlled substance if the registrant is found unfit or violates the Controlled Substances Act. Cracking down on bad actors who look the other way or who manipulate legal processes will help limit the availability of opioids to be abused.

Countering the coronavirus must not mean other health care problems are ignored. I am proud of the actions taken by the Energy and Commerce Committee to solve some of the health challenges faced by our country.

For questions, concerns, or comments, call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405, my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671, or via email at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.