Bennet, Group of Bipartisan Senators Introduce Legislation Expanding Mental Health Services in Rural America

Washington, D.C. — Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet joined U.S. Senators Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and a bipartisan group of colleagues to introduce legislation expanding telemental health services in rural areas. The Home-Based Telemental Health Care Act of 2020 would establish a grant program for health providers to expand telemental health services for rural communities, specifically to those working in farming, forestry, and fishing industries. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the challenges and disparities in access to mental or behavioral health care in rural communities across Colorado,” said Bennet. “Now more than ever, we need a comprehensive and innovative approach to this challenge. The Home-Based Telemental Health Care Act of 2020 is a bipartisan step forward in expanding access to mental and behavioral health care in Colorado and across the country.” 

“Those living in rural areas may live far away from a mental health facility, making in-person visits difficult for those seeking care,” said Rounds. “Utilizing telemental health capabilities will allow South Dakotans in rural areas to receive quality care from the comfort of their homes. Not only does this save time and resources, it provides an important mental health service during a difficult period for our farmers and ranchers, who for years have suffered economically due to low commodity prices, trade disputes and price disparities.”

“Now—especially as our nation continues dealing with a pandemic—we need to help rural America overcome the unique obstacles that small towns and rural communities face in providing mental health,” said Smith. “Our bipartisan bill will help health providers in rural areas expand tele-mental health care services for farmers, ranchers and foresters, and many others in local communities who are experiencing stress and burnout caused by the pandemic, difficult weather, low commodity prices and more. It’s important that they get the services they need during this uncertain time.” 

This legislation would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services, acting through the Director of the Office for the Advancement of Telehealth of the Health Resources and Services Administration, in coordination with the Rural Health Liaison of the Department of Agriculture, to award grants for entities to establish demonstration projects for the provision of telemental health services for rural populations. It would authorize up to $10 million for each fiscal year through 2025, using current funds. 

The Home-Based Telemental Health Care Act of 2020 is supported by the American Farm Bureau Federation. 

In addition to Bennet, Rounds, and Smith the legislation is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.).