CARES Act Includes Behavioral Health and Substance Abuse Provisions

March 30, 2020 | Health Services

Several of the provisions in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), signed into law on March 27, will help people with substance use disorders (SUDs) and the healthcare professionals who care for them. Congress has recognized that people with SUDs are especially vulnerable during the current public health emergency, and economic hardship is likely to expand the SUD crisis further.

With states imposing lockdowns and many individuals unable to get to their support groups, it becomes easy to “fall off the wagon” and begin using substances that may be available and too tempting to pass up. Congress realized that without addressing this potential problem, there may be bigger problems to deal with in the months and years ahead.

Here are two important developments in the CARES Act:

  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will receive $425 million to address mental health and substance use disorder needs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, including:
    • $250 million for Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics to increase access to mental health care services.
    • $50 million for suicide prevention, to provide increased support for those most in need of intervention.
    • $100 million in emergency response grants, flexible funding to address mental health and substance use disorders, as well as to provide resources and support to youth and the homeless, throughout the pandemic.
  • The federal privacy restrictions found in 42 CFR Part 2 (“Confidentiality Of Substance Use Disorder Patient Records”) have been revamped to allow health professionals who treat substance use disorders to share patient records for care coordination purposes, if a patient consents. At a time when treatment is increasingly provided remotely, and when any one patient may be receiving care from multiple providers, this will help streamline information sharing. The provision includes strong patients’ privacy protections under HIPAA, and law enforcement authorities are prohibited from using patient records for investigations.

Strict privacy precautions are important but, during these unprecedented times, providing individuals with the help they need is a higher priority. For those who are feeling the extreme stresses of the pandemic, barriers need to be removed so they may talk out their feelings and obtain much-needed advice. Allowing telephone conversations and other means for mental health providers to more easily communicate with those in need is what is required under the circumstances; it is more efficient for mental health providers to make one telephone call after another to their patients instead of in-person visits, which are not workable at present.

Share this article:
  • Christopher J. Kutner

Related Publications

Get legal updates and news delivered to your inbox