WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) announced their introduction of the FRONTIER Community Act, bipartisan legislation to expand access to mental health services through telehealth in frontier states, and make this change permanent. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House by Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska).
“The economic crisis and social isolation caused by COVID-19 is exacerbating our existing mental health crisis,” said Senator Rosen. “I’m proud to introduce this important piece of bipartisan legislation to address the need for increased access to mental telehealth services in states like Nevada that have a significant number of frontier counties. I will continue working to ensure that hard-working families in every corner of Nevada have the resources they need to overcome this public health crisis.”
“One of my core responsibilities as a U.S. senator is to fix arbitrary rules and regulations that simply don’t work for Alaska,” said Senator Sullivan. “One such regulation currently requires rural Americans to commute to an approved ‘originating site’ to access the services of a mental telehealth provider. Given our state’s unique geography, this site could be hundreds of miles and mountain ranges away from a patient’s hometown. Sadly, some patients simply abandon their pursuit of wellness and healing in the face of this hurdle. I’m glad to introduce legislation with Senator Rosen to remove this obstacle to health and deliver mental telehealth services in the home for residents of frontier states where we find the greatest unmet need.”
BACKGROUND: According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, nearly half of adults in the United States indicated a negative impact on their mental health stemming from concern and stress about the coronavirus. Under current law, Americans who wish to receive mental telehealth services are required to travel to an approved “originating site” to then call into mental health providers in urban areas. The originating site requirement was removed for individuals accessing substance use disorder services in the 2018 SUPPORT Act. The FRONTIER Community Act intends to expand that change to all mental health services in frontier states.
Under the proposed law, eligible states must have at least 50 percent of counties that have an average population density of six individuals per square mile or fewer. Currently, states meeting this criterion, classified as “frontier states,” are Alaska, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Frontier areas have some of the greatest need for access to mental health services.
The bipartisan FRONTIER Community Act would:
• Expand access to mental health services through telehealth in frontier states, and make the change permanent.
• Remove the “originating site” requirement in existing law.
• Direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Agriculture, in consultation with the Indian Health Service (HIS) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), to award grants for broadband infrastructure and provide additional telehealth flexibility for Indian Health Service facilities.
The FRONTIER Community Act is endorsed by the American Psychological Association, the Eating Disorders Coalition, the Residential Eating Disorders Consortium, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, SMART Recovery, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), Maternal Mental Health Liaison Group, the American Association on Health and Disability (AAHD), the Lakeshore Foundation, the National Association of Social Workers, the Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness, the American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work, Well Being Trust, the Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America, the International OCD Foundation, and Postpartum Support International.