Could Congress Be Taking Steps That Could Benefit Clinical Mental Health Counselors?
By James Finley, Associate Executive Director and Director of Public Policy
The end of the government shutdown has restored routine congressional operations, enabling AMHCA to resume its activity related toMedicare and VA legislation to advance the profession. First up in November is the House and Senate conference committee on the budget for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1. Conferees hope to reach agreement on program spending levels by Dec. 13, but many observers are highly skeptical of their prospects for reaching a compromise.
If a deal can be reached on FY 2014 spending levels, it would guide congressional funding decisions on agency budgets that must be fleshed out in detail by Jan. 15. Budget conferees’ top priority is to find an agreement on modest spending changes to avert the next sequester, which if left unaddressed will dramatically reduce non-entitlement spending. Many GOP conservatives are actively seeking this outcome from the budget conference, so the chance of avoiding a deeper sequester in January is very much in doubt.
Unfortunately, October’s congressional shutdown agreement did not address legislation to delay the very expensive Medicare physician fee formula, which still must be corrected by the year’s end or Medicare physician fees will be cut by 24 percent. If physician-fee legislation does not advance this fall, AMHCA’s Medicare provider status legislation (S.562) will not be a vehicle for enactment. Proponents of the physician fee legislation, however, will mount a major push for their bill, but it’s difficult to anticipate how it will move forward at this time.
The budget conferees meeting now are expected to consider a provision to require wealthier Medicare beneficiaries to pay more for their coverage, and such legislation would become an immediate vehicle for additional Medicare changes. AMHCA will keep members updated on its website as budget negotiations and Medicare legislation get started.
One bright note: After months of searching, AMHCA has identified a House Republican sponsor willing to introduce the House version of S.562. When this occurs, we will activate all AMHCA members to contact their House members to support this very important bill for the profession. In the meantime, all AMHCA members are strongly encouraged to make their support for S.562 known to their senators. See our Medicare legislative alert for help with your message.
Veterans issues are one of the very last legislative areas that remain bipartisan on Capitol Hill. Consequently, both obtaining funding and negotiating legislative agreements are much easier on veterans issues than other policy areas.
AMHCA supports legislation to promote the hiring of clinical mental health counselor interns within the VA (S.1155), and it is building significant support through our coalition visits on Hill offices. We have made a number of Hill calls on the legislation in recent weeks, and the bill usually receives a very favorable response from congressional staff and members.
Recently the bill has begun to see significant progress. House offices have told us they will introduce the House companion bill within weeks, and the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs held a hearing to consider the bill on Oct. 30. Both steps are very encouraging developments.
For the latest information on all of our congressional activities follow our updates on AMHCA’s Facebook or Public Policy web page.