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Legislative Update
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AMHCA Encourages Constituent/Legislator Meetings

By Julie A. Clements, JD
Director, Legislative Affairs

In late December, Richard Lewis, co-president of the Maine Clinical Counselors Association, and a member of AMHCA’s Public Policy and Legislation Committee, flew to Washington, D.C., to lobby Sen. Olympia Snowe (R–Maine) for Medicare coverage for mental health counselors.  

Lewis’ meeting came at a crucial time. Following the 2010 congressional mid-term elections, AMHCA has been without a Medicare bill sponsor in both the House and the Senate. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D–Ark.), of the Senate’s Democratic majority, was defeated in her re-election bid. Democratic Rep. Bart Gordon (D–Tenn.) did not seek another term in the U.S. House. And, the GOP’s acquisition of a majority in the House enhances AMHCA’s need to secure a GOP sponsor in the House for H.R. 1693, the House version of the Medicare counselor bill.  

During the meeting with Sen. Snowe’s health aide, Lewis cited the lack of outpatient mental healthcare access characterizing even Maine’s largest city, Portland. A provider at the Maine Medical Center, Maine’s largest medical complex, Mr. Lewis described waiting lists of as many as 500 people who are unable to get outpatient mental healthcare. He illustrated the difficulty of collecting from any senior client’s insurer, whether or not the insurer is Medicare. 

On Jan. 4, leaders of the Licensed Clinical Professional Counselors of Maryland came to Washington, D.C., to press Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D–Md.) on Medicare eligibility of mental health counselors. Earlier in 2010, a group of Utahmental health counselors met the health aides of with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R–Utah) in one of Sen. Hatch’s Utah district offices. 

AMHCA encourages its members to ask their U.S. Senators, in particular, for meetings with the Senators’ health aides in the Senate district office nearest you. AMHCA commends its Maine, Maryland, and Utah leadership for convening meetings with their U.S. Senators, each of whom sits on committees with interest in Medicare. 

Remember that you, the practitioner, are the best advocate for the mental health counseling profession. Your U.S. Senators are more than eager to hear directly from you on the Medicare eligibility question. And they must hear from you if Medicare eligibility is to become a reality for mental health counselors.

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