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Legislative Update
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AMHCA speaks out for clinical mental health counselors

By James K. Finley
Director of Public Policy

The Federal Budget and Medicare

Congress returns to the Capitol in September, when renewed negotiations on deficit reduction are expected to become an all-consuming task. Congressional deadlines for funding bills appear destined to produce a series of political clashes over spending and revenue that will last through the fall 2012 general election. 

In addition to the deficit-reduction negotiations, Congress must also reach agreement on the annual appropriations bills that fund federal agency budgets beginning on Oct. 1. The annual agency bills fund programs and operations that include the Department of Health and Human Services and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 

The funding bills must be signed by October to avoid a shutdown of most government operations, and fiscal conservatives are expected to make a strong push to reduce funding levels below those agreed to in the August deficit-reduction agreement. 

Congressional budget negotiations could provide AMHCA an opportunity to raise Medicare provider-status legislation for clinical mental health counselors (CMHCs). Medicare spending is expected to be a key issue in committee negotiations to advance a large package of debt-reduction proposals for congressional action. Medicare payments to physicians and other independent providers under Part B are once again scheduled to fall dramatically (29 percent) on Jan. 1, unless Congress intervenes. 

The so-called “Doc Fix” requires a multibillion-dollar spending provision that could become a vehicle for AMHCA’s Medicare provider-status legislation. The bill, known as the “Seniors Mental Health Access Improvement Act” (S. 604), authorizes direct provider status to CMHCs under Part B. 

Because the super committee has wide latitude, it could consider Medicare spending provisions such as S. 604. Congress must vote on the super-committee recommendations by Dec. 23. If no agreement is reached, automatic across-the-board cuts to non-protected programs will occur one year later. AMHCA and its coalition partners are working with potential supporters to build momentum for inclusion of this provision in any Medicare legislation considered later this year.

DOD Hiring Breakthrough: 
Army Seeks CMHCs for Army Substance Abuse Program

The Secretary of the Army has signed Army Directive 2011–09, which authorizes employment of “licensed professional counselors” as fully functioning Army Substance Abuse Program (ASAP) Practitioners. The directive authorizes ASAP to employ licensed professional counselors and licensed mental health counselors as independent practitioners with “a well-defined scope of practice.” The directive includes credentialing and privileging standards for ASAP counselors. 

The criteria require that candidates complete a master’s degree from a counseling program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP) and pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE).

AMHCA has released an alert with important details about this hiring breakthrough. 

AMHCA Joins VA Stakeholder Panel

AMHCA has joined a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) mental health stakeholder panel to represent the CMHC perspective on mental health issues before the VA. 

Discussions are expected to address:

  • Information on VA/DOD initiatives, including innovative and effective programs
  • VA mental health staffing/professional issues
  • Stakeholder input andsuggestions on VA mental health documents
  • Briefings on organizational, policy, and operational issues
  • Stakeholder-requested topics

The department launched the advisory group to hear from stakeholders such as veteran service organizations, mental health advocacy associations, and mental health professional groups. AMHCA is particularly interested in pressing staffing andprofessional concerns before the agency. 

For more information, or if you have questions, contact Jim Finley by email at: