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Legislative Update
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Legislation for Mental Health Counselors Makes Progress
By James Finley, Associate Executive Director and Director of Public Policy

Congress has a lot on its plate at this year’s end, including major budget issues, the Medicare physician fee extension, and key AMHCA legislation. Regrettably, the two chambers did not agree to many days in session this month, limiting days for joint action to just Dec. 10 through Dec. 13 before adjourning for a month-long holiday recess. 

Most importantly, earlier this month our Medicare provider status legislation (companion to Senate bill S.562) was finally introduced in the House as HR. 3662. Our chief House sponsors will be bipartisan, led by Rep. Chris Gibson (R–N.Y.) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D–Calif.). AMHCA and its coalition partners have long searched aggressively for a Republican to lead our bill in the House, and we are delighted that Rep. Gibson has stepped forward. Our coalition is making many calls on House offices to round up original co-sponsors for the House bill. 

Once introduced, AMHCA will call on all its members to press their Representatives for support. We also are working with the New York Mental Health Counselors Association on a press event for Rep. Gibson with our members in his district. 

AMHCA is very involved on Medicare physician fee legislation, which was being considered in the Senate and House in mid-December. The legislation will replace the Medicare physician-fee formula, which is scheduled for a 24 percent cut on Jan. 1. On Dec. 12, the House approved a 90-day fee extension, but a second longer-term bill will be scheduled for further consideration in early 2014. Bipartisan leaders of two of the three key congressional committees have agreed on a framework to replace the current Medicare formula with one that would link fees to the quality of care provided. 

To date, the leaders of the Medicare physician-fee legislation have not included unrelated provisions that require new spending, including our provider status legislation, but we are still seeking an opening in the Senate or House to do so.

On November 19, the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs favorably reported our VA internship bill, (formerly S.1155) thereby positioning the bill for Senate passage. The text of S.1155 was included in a VA omnibus bill, S.1581 (Sanders, I–Vt.) “Veterans Programs Improvements Act of 2013,” and it will now be known under this new name and number. Section 111 of the new bill, which has not yet been posted, directs the VA to include—as a component of Veterans Health Administration personnel education and training programs—education and training of marriage and family therapists and licensed professional mental health counselors. 

In the House, our VA companion bill was introduced on Nov. 14 as HR.3499. It is sponsored by Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D–Ariz.). The House VA Committee is a very rare bipartisan committee, so a Democratic lead on the VA Committee is still an effective approach to passage. House Committee consideration has not yet been set, but securing the provision in the Senate omnibus VA bill greatly strengthens it in the House. 

Prospects for final passage look quite good at this moment. AMHCA members on Dec. 5 received an Action Alert seeking House support for action on this important legislation. Download a sample letter to send to your elected representatives, and for information on how to contact your representatives.

For the latest information on all of our congressional activities follow our updates on AMHCA’s Facebook page or on AMHCA's Public Policy web page