For people who receive Medicare insurance, Congress’ omnibus spending bill could be a game changer. If passed this week, the bill would expand the nationwide network of mental health providers, including marriage and family therapists and mental health counselors, who are accepted under Medicare.

Matthew Fullen, associate professor of counselor education at Virginia Tech and a scholar on gerontology issues, has been researching Medicare and access for senior adult populations for much of his professional life. Under the current system, he estimates that 35 to 40 percent of the mental health workforce is left out of the Medicare network.

Fullen advocates for a modernized Medicare program that would provide greater access for senior adult patients who need these services, but can’t seek the necessary providers because they are not covered by their insurance.

“Medicare is a right earned by being a citizen in the United States, so the irony is that there isn’t an alternative without getting this legislation passed,” Fullen said. “It’s a historic shift in what’s available to this population.”

The legislation would bring Medicare up to a parallel standard to private insurance, he said.

“It really modernizes the workforce, and that’s especially impactful in rural communities and other areas where there may be an overlapping workforce health care shortage,” Fullen added.

“What we’re seeing in this omnibus package is there is bipartisan support. There is an emerging consensus that Medicare beneficiaries deserve the same access to mental health care. This impacts people in communities across the country.”

About Fullen

Matthew Fullen is an associate professor of counselor education at Virginia Tech, as well as an affiliate faculty for the Virginia Tech Center for Gerontology.  He has worked with older adults since 2005, first in the affordable senior housing industry, and then as a licensed professional clinical counselor. Fullen is an active gerontology scholar within the counseling profession, and his work has been funded by federal, private non-profit, and university-based grants

Schedule an interview

To secure an interview, contact Jenny Boone, director of marketing and communications in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, at or 540-314-7207.