House lawmakers push CMS to collect Medicare beneficiaries' mental health data

More “robust” data on the mental and behavioral health of Medicare beneficiaries is needed in order to improve the program's outcomes, lawmakers said last week in a letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The letter, drafted by four members of the House Committee on Ways and Means, urged CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt to collect and release more detailed data on Medicare beneficiaries' mental health issues. The letter was signed by Reps. Kevin Brady (R-TX), Sander Levin (D-MI), Pat Tiberi (R-OH) and Jim McDermott (D-WA).

More in-depth data is “essential” for improving healthcare delivery and informing policymakers about the mental health needs of the senior population, the lawmakers stressed. The letter specifically calls for increased data reporting on anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, personality disorders and traumatic brain injury.

The lawmakers applauded CMS' efforts to increase public access to data on other Medicare issues, and said increased mental health data reporting could help the agency achieve its goals for quality-based payments.

“While we understand the concerns with protecting sensitive mental and behavioral health information, the absence of even de-identified behavioral health data negatively impacts initiatives to achieve better care, smarter spending, and healthier people through our healthcare systems,” the letter reads.

Almost 26% of Medicare beneficiaries experience some form of mental disorder each year, the letter states, and nearly 37% of all disabled beneficiaries have a severe mental disorder. Mental health conditions often occur along with other chronic conditions, such as diabetes, making them harder and more costly to manage. The letter also cites the fact that seniors, especially veterans, are at a higher risk of suicide than the general population.