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Legislative Update
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Congress Sets Low Bar for the New Year

By James K. Finley
Director of Public Policy

Congress returned to Washington in January following a long holiday recess during which many members were chastened by constituents’ criticism of their performance. However, increased bipartisanship and improved legislative productivity are not on the congressional horizon. Instead, congressional plans include very modest legislative output up through the November election, with many major decisions pushed off until December and into 2013.

In healthcare, the U.S. House of Representatives plans to address Medicare physician payments and will consider, but not enact, legislation to advance Medicare premium support and to repeal and replace the President’s healthcare reform legislation. Meanwhile, the Senate expects to accomplish little more than addressing Medicare physician fee payments. 

Medicare Provider Status

The House endured severe criticism at the end of last year when it initially rejected a Senate bill extending expiring unemployment benefits, restoring Medicare physicians fee payments, and extending payroll tax cuts affecting most taxpayers. The catch-all bill cleared the Senate with broad bipartisan support, but the House only reluctantly accepted a two-month measure on the condition that a formal conference committee be convened in January. 

This conference committee negotiation has just begun and their early discussions remain deeply deadlocked on these big-dollar items. The negotiations should ultimately produce the only Medicare legislation enacted this year. AMHCA and its coalition partners, representing professional counselors and marriage and family therapists, are pushing Medicare provider status for LMHCs and MFTs in this negotiation. 

So far Congress has refused to consider adding any small Medicare provisions to this large must-pass bill, but we will continue to raise our coverage issue. 


AMHCA has learned from the Department of Defense (DoD) office administering TRICARE that it must issue written policies interpreting new mental health counselor rules for the TRICARE intermediaries. DoD/TRICARE expects to issue administrative policies within a few months on the mental health counselor rules issued on Dec. 27. 

The TRICARE intermediary cannot process applications for independent provider status until the administrative procedures are released. The TRICARE rules are important because they allow qualified clinical mental health counselors to practice independently under the program. For background on the rules, see AMHCA’s website.

DoD/TRICARE invites AMHCA members to submit comments on the proposed rule by the Feb. 27, 2012, deadline. Public comments give administrative standing to rule makers to make improvements or clarifications in the rules. 

AMHCA will submit comments on behalf of its members by the February deadline and will also provide model comments for members to formulate and submit their individual comments. Watch AMHCA’s website for further updates as we make progress on this issue. AMHCA members who want to learn more about becoming a TRICARE participating provider should view these two websites: and

Medicare Overhaul and Health Care Reform

House GOP leaders have not abandoned plans to dramatically reshape Medicare and repeal the Accountable Care Act (ACA). House committees of jurisdiction plan to consider Medicare premium support legislation that voluntarily privatizes the program for beneficiaries as well as advance bills that would repeal and replace the President’s healthcare reform law. While no observers expect sweeping legislation to pass the Democratic Senate or be signed by the President, the House GOP leaders wish to clarify for voters their approach to these major health coverage issues.

Latest AMHCA Updates

AMHCA members frequently contact our office for our latest legislative information. Did you know that AMHCA posts the latest government relations updates on its website and on its Facebook page?