AMHCA Stays on Agenda While Congress Shifts to Politics
By James K. Finley
Associate Executive Director/Director of Public Policy
Congress scheduled just 16 legislative days in July before recessing for the entire month of August, but the month won’t be all free time—political conventions and campaigning will consume most members’ break time.
Meantime, the little time that Congress is in session in July is being consumed by members’ attempts to position themselves on controversial political votes rather than serious legislating. Among these issues is another show vote to repeal President Obama’s healthcare law (The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or PPACA), in addition to hostile House hearings on the impact of the health law on services and costs.
Behind the scenes, congressional leaders have begun private conversations about a catch-all bill for year-end that would delay automatic cuts and fund the government through March 2013 or later. The year-end measure is the likely vehicle to delay planned cuts in Medicare physician fees.
AMHCA must target this bill for inclusion of its Medicare legislation (S. 604, the Seniors Mental Health Access Improvement Act) as the only vehicle for Medicare changes this year. With the election approaching, Congress is currently very reluctant to consider even minor changes in Medicare as the two parties have major disagreements over the direction of the program.
With Medicare action moving slowly, AMHCA recently met with several congressional offices seeking to put pressure on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to increase hiring of licensed mental health counselors (LMHC) and marriage and family therapists (MFT). AMHCA is pleased that Rep. Michael Michaud (D–Maine), shown above, recently called on the VA to hire more LMHCs and MFTs and to conduct a staffing analysis to determine the extent of LMHC/MFT hiring to fill VA vacancies.
The letter to the Hon. Eric K. Shinseki, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, expresses concern “over the ability of the Department of Veterans Affairs to hire enough staff to fill the vacant mental health positions currently undermining the VA system.
“Specifically, recent reports from the field indicate that the VA is failing to take advantage of licensed professional mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists, who together comprise roughly 40 percent of the nation’s mental health workforce.”
The letter goes on to say that the VA’s announcement “that it will hire 1,600 additional mental health clinicians was a strong step forward towards addressing the unmet mental health needs of our veterans. Also encouraging is [the] VA’s announcement that it will recruit marriage and family therapists and licensed professional mental health counselors to fill the new positions.”
The letter also asks four challenging questions of the VA related to filling the mental health positions to help the House Subcommittee on Health “understand and address this shortage.”
View a copy of Michaud’s letter on AMHCA’s website.
AMHCA is receiving reports from around the country that long-delayed provider credentialing of LMHCs has begun for their independent practice under TRICARE. New TRICARE Policy Manual Instructions were sent to TRICARE intermediaries in May for implementation, and AMHCA is interested to hear from members about their experiences with TRICARE credentialing.
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