Series of Congressional Hearings Address Issues Brought to the Forefront During COVID-19

Advocate Masthead

ACP has submitted statements to Congress on each of the issues, including mental health, substance use, paid family leave and health equity

June 4, 2021 (ACP) -- The U.S. Senate is tackling a series of national challenges that have been highlighted or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the American College of Physicians is urging legislators to take action to protect patients and medical providers.

At issue are mental health, substance abuse, paid family leave and health equity. “Congress wants to learn about our collective experiences of the pandemic, and we're eager to share our stories,” said George Lyons, ACP director of legislative affairs. “We take advantage of every opportunity to advocate for our policies and legislative priorities.”

ACP has submitted statements to Congress on each of these issues. Here is a closer look at the recommendations that ACP provided at recent Senate committee hearings.

Improve mental health care and addiction services

ACP told Senate committees that the pandemic has boosted demand for mental health/addiction services while worsening the shortage of clinicians available to work in this field. ACP emphasized that it supports more integration of primary and behavioral care, and it called for more mental health care parity with increased federal oversight.

“This is consistent with the concept of ‘whole person’ care, which is foundational to primary care delivery,” Lyons said. “It recognizes that physical and behavioral health conditions are intermingled. ACP recommends that public and private health insurers, policymakers and primary care and behavioral health care professionals work to remove payment barriers that impede behavioral health and primary care integration.”

In addition, ACP supports a national prescription drug monitoring program, expanded support of medication-assisted treatment by physicians, more availability of naloxone to treat drug overdoses and more research into effective public health interventions.

Support frontline physicians

ACP told senators that it supports a series of bills to assist medical graduates and the overall physician workforce and to address the mental and behavioral health needs of physicians themselves. Among other things, these bills will defer interest on student loans to help residents, provide more support to international medical graduates, assist frontline physicians and prevent suicide/burnout/addiction/stress among physicians.

Support family leave legislation

“ACP made recommendations surrounding paid family leave, including the need for at least six weeks paid leave for families and updating the Family and Medical Leave Act to expand flexibility in paid-leave policies to care for various family members, including parents, in-laws and grandparents,” Lyons said. “In our statement, ACP said legislation to expand paid leave should consider potential burdens on employers while upholding the intent of the programs through dedicated funding, necessary accommodation and assistance to help small businesses transition to a minimum of six weeks of paid leave.”

ACP also told senators that it recognizes that universal access to at least six weeks of paid family leave may bring unique challenges for smaller employers, including private physician practices and nonprofit organizations. ACP believes additional research is needed to determine the optimal amount of paid time off to maximize the associated health benefits for employees.

Improve health equity and outcomes by addressing health disparities

In a statement, ACP urged Congress to:

  • Collect racial, ethnic and language preference demographic data on testing, infection, hospitalization and mortality during a pandemic and release the data in a uniform and timely manner at the local and national levels.
  • Equitably distribute COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, especially in historically underserved racial- and ethnic-minority neighborhoods.
  • Protect essential workers with necessary personal protective equipment.
  • Address environmental and social drivers of health.
  • Improve access to health coverage and expand the physician workforce.
  • Address health literacy and cultural awareness gaps.
  • Implement policies to decrease maternal mortality.

Lyons explained that some of the legislative proposals, such as the proposal on paid family leave, “may be voted on as stand-alone measures requiring at least 60 votes in the Senate if they are filibustered. Or they could be added into one or two major reconciliation packages requiring a simple majority vote in the Senate and passage in the House.”

In addition, he said, “some of our funding and appropriations requests for the federal agencies could be approved toward the end of the year as Congress passes its appropriations bills for fiscal year 2021-2022. It is also possible Congress will only approve our funding requests at smaller amounts.”

In the big picture, Lyons said, “COVID-19 has had a devastating toll on human life. Many of our members are frontline workers who are battling to combat this disease every day. These hearings presented an opportunity for us to provide input on issues that are important to our members and their patients.”

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