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Let Your Voice Be Heard this Summer

People sitting around table at Capitol Hill.

Michael J. Fox advocating on Capitol Hill with Parkinson's Caucus Co-chair Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Congressman Steve Scalise (R-LA) during MJFF's 2017 Parkinson's Policy Forum.

Every August, members of Congress return to their home districts for what is known as August recess. They typically hold many in-person meetings during this time, but operations have shifted as a result of COVID-19. Members of Congress and their staff are still working to meet constituent needs, however, through other methods including phone or video meetings.

Although things look different this year, it is as crucial as ever to take part in the public policy process and advocate for policies that impact people with Parkinson’s — and August recess is an ideal time to do exactly that. Right now, policies relating to the COVID-19 pandemic are top-of-mind for members of Congress and their staff. In late July, The Michael J. Fox Foundation held a webinar to share updates on issues we’re closely monitoring — that have a renewed focus due to COVID-19 — and how you can advocate from home in August and beyond. You can also hear more on this topic in our recent podcast.

Let’s dive into the issues we need your voice on this summer.

Expanding Access to Mental Health Providers

The first issue addresses mental health, which is critical to our community because at least half of people with Parkinson’s may experience clinical depression, anxiety or other mental health issues. And in our Fox Insight survey on COVID-19, we found that people with Parkinson’s who did and did not have COVID-19 experienced new or worsening mood symptoms (i.e., anxiety, depression, apathy) during the pandemic. There are more than 200,000 licensed mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists in the United States. Unfortunately, these services are not covered through Medicare and therefore not reimbursed. Ninety percent of people with Parkinson’s receive health care coverage through Medicare and have no coverage for these providers.

It’s time to urge Congress to support The Mental Health Access Improvement Act of 2019 (S. 286/H.R. 945), which provides coverage for licensed mental health counselor services under Medicare. Contact your policymakers today and ask them to pass this legislation to increase access to mental health services!

Making Telehealth Permanent

Our second issue focuses on telehealth, which refers to using technology such as phone or video to conduct health care appointments while at home. Through our Fox Insight survey, we also found that 39 percent of respondents with Parkinson’s used telehealth during the pandemic. Access to telehealth is important to people with Parkinson’s because it helps reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 by seeing health care providers while comfortably at home. And being able to conduct medical visits by telehealth means that many people with Parkinson’s may have access to a movement disorder specialist for the first time since their diagnosis — ultimately providing enhanced care.

Legislation around telehealth is moving at a rapid pace and your advocacy can make a difference on this issue. Contact your members of Congress today and ask them to expand access and make telehealth permanent!

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