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Legislative Update
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Fall Forecast: Busy, 
With Medicare, VA, and Obamacare Activity Picking Up

By James Finley, Associate Executive Director and Director of Public Policy

Congress is in recess until Sept. 9, when it will launch a busy legislative period to consider spending legislation that has languished all year. Before recessing in July, a key House Committee advanced bipartisan Medicare physician payment reform legislation, a hopeful sign that broad Medicare legislation could reach the Senate in September. The so-called “permanent doc fix” would gradually phase down reliance on Medicare Part B’s fee-for-service payment model. 

Since this is likely to be the only Medicare bill considered this year, AMHCA and its coalition partners hope to attach our Medicare provider status bill (S.562) to the Senate version of the Medicare physician payment legislation. 

AMHCA expects the Senate to begin consideration of Medicare legislation in September or October, when we hope to have our bill attached in the Finance Committee. AMHCA urges its members to follow our Medicare provider status legislation and voice their support for this key measure.
In October, the Obama Administration will oversee the enrollment of millions of people under Obamacare, and it is now scurrying to put in place the infrastructure to ensure implementation difficulties are minimized in this enormous undertaking. 

A report released days ago by Georgetown University Center for Health Policy and supported by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and Urban Institute found that insurance plans to be sold under the new federal rules are “adapting well to the new benefit mandates” under the program and they have been able to meet tight federal and state federal filing deadlines. 

Under Obamacare, all new, fully insured individual and small-group health plans must provide a defined set of Essential Health Benefits (EHBs) to be offered beginning Jan. 1, 2014. The EHB requirements apply to insurers selling both inside and outside the new state and federal health insurance exchanges. The law stipulates that essential benefits must include 10 general categories of benefits. These categories include mental health and substance use disorder services, and they include treatment at parity level with other medical services. 

The most welcome finding in the report for AMHCA members is that they found that states are adapting well to the new EHB requirements to review plans for discriminatory benefit design and are able to enforce them. 

AMHCA is currently pressing forward with its new approach to increasing VA employment opportunities for mental health counselors through advocacy at the grassroots level. In July, AMHCA kicked off a new campaign asking its members to participate in VA-sponsored discussions bringing together VA medical center staff, mental health professionals, public officials, and other local leaders. The purpose of the local VA meetings is to raise awareness of mental health issues and help form plans to address VA mental health service needs. 

The events help communities coordinate VA-based mental health services for veterans with other mental health services for their families. Active dialogue and engagement requires both the VA and the participants to share information, and their agenda is to provide participants with ample opportunity to share information with participants. AMHCA members across the country are asked to use these forums to educate VA staff and stakeholders about the skills and abilities of mental health counselors to serve these local needs. 

AMHCA is asking its members to locate the VA facilities nearest them that are hosting a Mental Health Summit by simply locating scheduled events on this map.

For the latest information on all of our congressional activities follow our updates on AMHCA’s Facebook page or our public policy web page.