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Legislative Update
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The Latest on Medicare, VA Jobs, and TRICARE

By Julie A. Clements, JD
AMHCA Director of Legislative Affairs

AMHCA Renews Medicare Eligibility Fight
AMHCA and its legislative partners are planning for the upcoming lame duck session and the 112th Congress, set to begin in January. 

AMHCA has renewed its push for Medicare eligibility of licensed mental health counselors. In the past few weeks, AMHCA has met with numerous Senate offices, asking that Senators, in particular those serving on the Finance Committee, sign onto S. 671, the Seniors Mental Health Access Improvement Act. 

Currently, 13 U.S. Senators have signed onto S. 671 as cosponsors. 

S. 671 needs a considerable infusion of support from other U.S. Senators if LMHC Medicare eligibility is ever to be attached as a provision to any future Medicare spending bill. Currently, many Senate staffers have expressed their members’ reservations about passing any legislation that will add to Medicare’s overall costs. 

Resistance to more Medicare spending is vociferous even though the cost of S. 671 cost is “budget dust” in the greater scheme of federal expenditures. 

We need LMHCs’ help demonstrating the overwhelming cost of inaction on S. 671. Let your Senators know how many seniors are forgoing less costly outpatient mental healthcare by not being able to bill Medicare Part B for your services.

Under the “Affect Public Policy” link of the AMHCA website, you can access a template of a letter to Senators about Medicare eligibility. You should individualize this letter, providing information unique to your practice circumstances, and send it to your U.S. Senators. Please ask your U.S. Senators to sign on as cosponsors to S. 671 and to see that S. 671 is wrapped into any future Medicare bill. 

Your Senators need to know of the senior population’s great need for “medically necessary” outpatient psychotherapy services delivered by licensed mental health counselors. AMHCA also asks its members to schedule a meeting in their U.S. Senators’ district offices to communicate in person to Senate staff why S. 671 should be among your U.S. Senators’ legislative priorities. 

You can access your Senators’ district offices by visiting their personal websites trough this U.S. Senate website.

VHA Door Is Now Ajar to LMHCs
In late September, the Department of Veterans Affairs finalized its job qualification standards for counselors. With the finalization of the standards, some VA centers across the country have begun opening their doors to counselors. 

In a recent conference call with human resources officials at the VA and VHA officials, at the request of legislative affairs personnel representing LMHCs, the Department of Veterans Affairs agreed to devise a question and answer sheet addressing many of the questions raised by LMHCs since the VA released the job qualification standards in September. 

AMHCA has already received numerous questions from members seeking positions in the Department of Veterans Affairs since the standards were released. Since the VA did not invite AMHCA to provide input as the VA drafted the job qualification standards for counselors, AMHCA cannot speak to the reasoning behind the substance of the job qualification standards. However, AMHCA will work with the VA to help ensure your questions about the new job qualification standards are answered. 

Any information AMHCA receives from the VA that further explains the standards will be shared with AMHCA members through legislative alerts and the AMHCA website.

TRICARE Legislation Is Dormant—for the Moment
As congressional members have vacated Washington, D.C., to campaign for the fall elections, the National Defense Authorization Act, AMHCA’s legislative vehicle for TRICARE legislation, is dormant. With members away on the campaign trail, AMHCA continues to pitch its Senate-House TRICARE bill compromise (H.R. 3839 and S. 3371) to Senate Armed Services Committee staff and members of the House Armed Services Committee. 

It’s not too late to register your support for legislation that would permit all licensed mental health counselors to practice independently under TRICARE. 

Download a template letter noting concerns about the TRICARE legislation. Please be sure to modify it to more appropriately register your specific concerns about the TRICARE legislation’s limited reach but broad intent.