Congress Confronted Hard Choices at Year's End
Divided all year on issues both large and small, legislators scurried in December to make many critical decisions to meet year-end deadlines set in law, on topics such as Medicare physician payments, expiring tax breaks, agency funding bills, and termination of unemployment insurance benefits.
Medicare Provider Status
In spite of very aggressive efforts by AMHCA and its coalition partners, clinical mental health counselors, and marriage and family therapists, Medicare provider status legislation was not included in critical, year-end Medicare legislation introduced in December by GOP House leaders.
Veterans’ Mental Health Services
AMHCA and its coalition partners continue to meet with various offices of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to encourage hiring more clinical mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists. High-profile press criticism of VA mental health services in November has increased congressional concerns about the adequacy of mental health services for returning vets.
In late December Congress passed a $1 trillion appropriations package funding many government programs through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, 2012. The bill contains funding for a broad range of important mental health, education, and other programs, including the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Fortunately, Congress rejected over $200 million in House-approved cuts to SAMHSA-funded community-based mental health programs and services appropriations.
Acting CMHS Director Named
SAMHSA has announced a leadership shuffle of key mental health positions, which were effective Dec. 21. After eight years as director of the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), Kathryn Power has assumed a new position as SAMHSA administrator, Region 1 (New England). Shifting Power’s position enabled Paolo del Vecchio to become acting director of CMHS. Del Vecchio most recently served as CMHS associate director for Consumer Affairs and has worked previously for Philadelphia’s Office of Mental Health. Selection of a permanent CMHS director is planned as an open process.