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OHSU expertise informs legislation to ease access to mental health care

Sen. Wyden consults OHSU telehealth, psychiatric experts in sponsoring legislation
shot over the shoulder of someone wearing a headset, typing on the computer, talking to a senior on the computer
In the wake of the pandemic, older patients and those in rural areas especially benefitted from ease of access to telehealth visits. (Getty Images)

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., drew on the expertise of Oregon Health & Science University in sponsoring new legislation to allow seniors with Medicare to receive mental health care from their homes by telemedicine.

Wyden penned an op-ed published by STAT News on Wednesday.

George Keepers, M.D.
George Keepers, M.D.
Steve Kassakian, M.D.
Steve Kassakian, M.D.

George Keepers, M.D., chair of psychiatry in the OHSU School of Medicine, and Steven Kassakian, M.D., associate chief health information officer for OHSU, both spoke with Wyden as he assessed the potential for maintaining access to telehealth for Medicare beneficiaries after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

Medicare eased restrictions on telehealth visits because of the imperative need to promote physical distancing, especially among seniors who are more susceptible to severe illness.

“Oregonians, indeed all Americans, are fortunate to have Sen. Wyden as such as strong advocate for access to effective mental health care,” Keepers said. “His efforts to assure that insurance companies implement the requirements and spirit of the mental health national and state parity laws, and to implement telehealth access for all, are tremendous steps forward in providing patients with desperately needed, effective psychiatric care.”

Kassakian, who helped to rapidly expand OHSU’s telehealth services in the wake of the pandemic, said older patients and those in rural areas especially benefitted from ease of access to telehealth visits.

“This legislation will make permanent the removal of some key barriers and will help ensure our seniors have easy access to safe, high-quality care from the comfort of their homes,” Kassakian said.

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