Florida bill ensuring behavioral health care across state lines moves forward

Florida is one step closer to joining the Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact (PSYPACT), which would allow residents to continue receiving behavioral health care from their provider via telehealth, even across state lines. Legislators discussed the benefits of House Bill 953, sponsored by Rep. Christine Hunschofsky (D – Broward) at the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee meeting on Monday.

 

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Currently, psychologists licensed in Florida are prohibited from providing services to out-of-state patients via telehealth, according to a legislative staff analysis. Telepsychology services can allow people, such as students who attend college in a different state, to continue to receive care without switching providers. 

Expanding telehealth could also fill gaps in behavioral health care. February 2021 data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Florida found that of the 40.8% of Florida adults who reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, nearly a quarter were unable to access counseling or therapy. A majority of Florida children aged 12-17 with depression (64.2%) did not receive any care, according to the data.

“This is a smart way of dealing with the issues we’re having in mental health,” said Rep. Marie Paule Woodson (D – Broward). “If kids leave a city or county and go somewhere else, the services they are receiving should be consistent to the point that they can see a psychologist in another place.”

Coral Springs Mayor Scott Brook, who founded the Mental Wellness Networking Alliance (MWNA), testified in support of the bill. Brook founded MWNA in the Coral Springs and Parkland communities after two teens died by suicide following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on Feb. 14, 2018. He said the bill would ensure a continuum of care for other students affected by the shooting.

“I support this bill because there are many students that have left that area and go to schools in other states that might still need the [behavioral health] support,” Brook said. 

PSYPACT was first created in 2015 by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards and “is an interstate compact that facilitates the practice of telepsychology and temporary in-person, face-to-face practice of psychology across state boundaries,” according to its website. 

Florida would become the 29th state to enter into PSYPACT. Five other states—Massachusetts, Michigan, Indiana, Washington, and South Carolina—also have active legislation concerning PSYPACT enactment. 

PSYPACT is also just one of several interstate compacts. The Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, which allows providers to practice in multiple states with one set of paperwork, has 36 participating jurisdictions. Regional compacts are in the works, such as the Mid-Atlantic Excellence Zone, which aims to connect patients and providers between Virginia, Maryland, and D.C.

The bill enacting PSYPACT in Florida unanimously passed both the Professions and Public Health and Health Care Appropriations Subcommittees and now sits in the House Health and Human Services Committee.