Representative Moses and members of the committee,
Thank you for having me today to testify in favor of AB541, which would expand access to therapists in Wisconsin by allowing professionals who are deemed qualified to treat patients by other states to also treat patients in Wisconsin via telehealth.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 75% of the people who will be diagnosed with a mental illness in their life begin to show signs by age 24. Last year, I became one of those people.
My name is Benjamin Garbedian. I’m a 22 year old college student from Waukesha, and last fall, I began having panic attacks. I’ve always kept a fairly busy schedule, and between school, work, social life, family life, and any other things that arise in a given day, stress caught up to me.
In an effort to try and stop my panic attacks, I began seeking out a therapist, and discovered how much of a shortage of mental health professionals there really is in Wisconsin. The vast majority of places and people I reached out to were booking out months on average, weeks if I was lucky. While I was able to eventually find help, many others in this state have not been as fortunate.
AB541 is simple. It would require the Department of Safety and Professional Services to recognize licenses for therapists that have been issued by other states to be valid to treat Wisconsinites. In the era of Zoom and other forms of telehealth, this is just common sense. There is no clinical difference between treating Illinoisians and treating Wisconsinites – there shouldn’t be a legal difference either.
This reform is not only simple, it’s actually been done here before. During the COVID pandemic, when we were facing a shortage of all healthcare professionals, the governor signed Executive Order 16, which allowed therapists from other states to be temporarily recognized as qualified here. That means that for the months that the emergency order was in place, there were therapists from states as close as Minnesota and as far away as Alaska who were able to treat patients via Zoom, who then were suddenly banned from seeing them again when the COVID orders ended. The National Institutes of Health reports that while the rates of Americans seeing primary care physicians via telehealth has fallen since COVID, rates of people seeking telehealth therapy have stayed high, indicating a demand for reforms like this one.
Finally, 20 states already have a program in place to recognize the licenses of other states, showing that this type of program works. Let’s cut red tape and help give people like me the care we need. I urge you to vote in favor of AB541.