New bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to extend Medicare provider status to mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists. On July 22, 2015 Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) introduced the “Seniors Mental Health Access Improvement Act” (S. 1830) and on June 12, 2015 Representatives Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Mike Thompson (D-CA) introduced the House version as (HR. 2759). The identical bills would allow Medicare beneficiaries access to mental health counselor services and marriage and family therapists (MFTs) through Medicare. By providing these mental health professionals the opportunity to participate in the Medicare program, the bills expand the number of mental health providers available to beneficiaries.
Describing the need for the legislation, AMHCA notes that in the United States 20 percent of individuals aged 55 and older experience some type of mental health problem. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, there are approximately 4,000 Mental Health Professionals Shortage Areas in the United States, and half of all counties in the U.S. have no practicing psychiatrists, psychologists or clinical social workers. Seniors in rural communities are the most adversely affected by these shortage areas. The time to promote Medicare recognition of mental health counselors and MFTs is now. Urge your two Senators and Representative to co-sponsor this vital legislation that would authorize MHCs and MFTs to be paid by Medicare for outpatient mental health services to beneficiaries.