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Legislative Update
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Efforts Continue to Advance the Profession in a Difficult Climate

By James K. Finley
Director of Public Policy

Washington’s political climate is expected to remain very inhospitable to legislative progress throughout the 2012 election cycle. 

Congress is expected to use a lame-duck session to enact a raft of short-term, but major bills necessary to maintain the status quo on spending and taxes through the end of the year and early into 2013. Nevertheless, AMHCA is pressing forward with its agenda wherever it sees an opportunity to make progress for the profession. 

AMHCA Seeks Increased VA Hiring

AMHCA and its coalition partners representing mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists have stepped up pressure on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to hire more mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists. During the last week of April, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs was expected to castigate the VA for failing to hire an adequate number of mental health therapists in the agency. 

According to a new report by the VA’s Inspector General, the agency is experiencing an ongoing shortage of behavioral health personnel and is overstating its ability to quickly bring veterans into care. AMHCA coalition partners plan to connect the VA’s personnel shortages with the hiring concerns of our profession.

The report also found that VA’s own clinical personnel believe it lacks adequate staff for their growing caseload. The VA is expected to concur with some of the findings and may take further steps, perhaps establishing a new office with oversight of the mental health program. 

In a related matter, the VA announced this week that a portion of 1,600 new clinical positions would be made available to qualified licensed professional mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists. Read the VA’s press announcement


A number of members have inquired about the timetable for TRICARE Management implementation of its December 2011 rule for independent practice by CMHCs. Unfortunately, we have not received a recent update on its next steps; however; we hope to receive an update shortly and will immediately send it out to members.

Medicare Legislation

AMHCA’s Medicare provider status legislation in the Senate is S. 604, the Seniors Mental Health Access Improvement Act, which was introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D–Ore.) and Sen. John Barrasso (R–Wyo.). In the House, the Medicare provider status legislation is part of an omnibus bill—H.R. 2954, the Health Equity and Accountability Act of 2011, which was introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D–Calif.)—that addresses health disparities. 

The political environment surrounding Medicare spending is highly charged by election-year politics, and Congress has no plans to make significant changes in the program this year. 

AMHCA and our coalition partners have resumed visits to congressional offices with jurisdiction over Medicare (House Energy & Commerce, House Ways and Means, and Senate Finance). 

We hear that legislators plan to pass only a very narrow Medicare bill to extend physician fees that is necessary by year-end. Next year, many legislators anticipate consideration of more substantive changes in the program. 

SAMHSA Launches Insurance Site

SAMHSA has introduced a new health insurance enrollment webpage featuring information on insurance coverage and what states are doing to improve the enrollment processes. Resources for providers include: 

  • Webinars on improving billing and practice operations;
  • Explanations of insurance options available starting in 2014, including expanded Medicaid eligibility and coverage through new insurance exchanges; and
  • State-specific information , such as state-level behavioral health prevalence data, webinars, online eligibility applications, and information on SAMHSA-specific projects. 

Members who want to see breaking public policy news from AMHCA should check out our Facebook page and interact with colleagues about the latest public policy developments that impact the profession.