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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
Catch-All Medicare Bill Is Ready for Floor Consideration

Congress has begun the year with several major bills to consider, including a government-wide appropriations measure (now completed), budget/debt ceiling negotiations, and hopefully resolution of a permanent fix to the Medicare physician-fee dilemma. This latter Medicare bill is the key catch-all vehicle for AMHCA’s Medicare provider status legislation (S.532/HR.3662). 

The Senate Finance Committee version of the so-called Medicare “Doc Fix” is ready for floor consideration, but both the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Ways and Means Committee are negotiating over a long list of changes for their respective versions of the catch-all Medicare bill before it can go to the House floor for consideration. All three committees are discussing their drafts, which include a wide array of large and small Medicare provisions. 

AMHCA urgently requests that all members email their respective Representative and Senators to urge support of our critical Medicare bill. Our strategy is to demonstrate wide-spread grassroots support for S.532/HR.3662 by adding more cosponsors of the bills. Adding several strong cosponsors on committees with jurisdiction will help to win inclusion of our bill in this larger “Doc Fix” legislation. 

The key challenge for the mental health counseling profession is to find a way to get its email messages to “break through” all the many thousands of others that also reach Congress on Medicare legislation. AMHCA’s website has instructions for contacting legislators along with model letters for use in messaging Congress. 

Please use these resources in your emails to Congress and encourage your colleagues to do the same!

Reminder:TRICARE Certification Ends Dec. 31

The mental health counselor grandfather period for TRICARE provider certification ends on Dec. 31 of this year. Clinical mental health counselor (CMHC) TRICARE certification for independent practice began on Jan. 1, 2012 with a two-year grandfather for eligible practitioners. TRICARE’s regional carriers are processing provider certification applications for CMHCs, and many providers have already qualified. 

AMHCA encourages all eligible CMHCs to consider seeking independent provider status under the program well before the grandfather period ends this year. TRICARE certification helps CMHCs to advance their professional standing at the federal level as well as ensures that individual practitioners may serve TRICARE beneficiaries long into the future. 

Once the grandfather period closes on Jan. 1, 2015, practitioners who do not meet more restrictive certification standards will be permanently excluded from participation. The certification rules are com-plex, so it is essential to review these policies before beginning.

Please review AMHCA’s resources on TRICARE on our website. 

HHS/CMS Seeks Harmful Medicare Drug Change

Many mental health organizations are alarmed by a new proposed federal rule that threatens to harm access to cer-tain psychotropic medications for Medicare beneficiaries. The Obama administration recently proposed to remove special protections that guarantee Medicare beneficiary access to three types of widely used drug classes: anti-depressants; anti-psychotics; and immunosuppressant drugs. 

These three drug classes were granted protected status since the Medicare prescription benefit was implemented in 2006. Protected status of the drugs required Medicare’s private insurance plans to cover “all or substantially all” medications in each class, and removal could greatly harm access to many of these drugs. 

The proposed change makes clear that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), proposed the change to significantly reduce spending under the program. National mental health organizations are organizing now to fight the proposed rules, and AMHCA expects to give its support to their efforts.Click here for background and summary information on this issue.

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