March Action in Congress Is Crucial to CMHCs’
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physician-payment reform bill was released in mid-February, but it excluded all extraneous amendments, including S.562/HR.3662. Immediately after introduction, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D–Mont.) departed the Senate to accept a post as the U.S. ambassador to China. His departure from the Senate dims chances for quick passage of the new stripped-down compromise.
Currently, congressional leaders are struggling to find a path forward for the omnibus (or “catch-all”) Medicare bill. To avoid facing the automatic expiration of Medicare physician fees on April 1—and the political crisis that would ensue—legislators are being forced to act on legislation this month. Many observers, including AMHCA, expect Congress to enact yet another short-term, stripped-down bill to extend current Medicare payments into December, allowing them to consider the very high-cost long-term issues after the November election.
Meanwhile, AMHCA’s strategy is to urge passage of its provider-status legislation in whatever broad Medicare bill takes shape in the coming weeks and months. AMHCA members are strongly encouraged to keep their great messages going to their legislators in the House and Senate!
Directions for sending messages to Congress are on our Public Policy website.
The Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act (S.1982) is a bipartisan bill that combines numerous proposals previously passed by the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs that is awaiting full Senate consideration within days.
Among its numerous provisions is one strongly supported by AMHCA that would add mental health counselor eligibility for paid internships within the VA (formerly S.1155).
S.1982 now includes the language of S.1155, although the primary purpose of the expanded bill is to restore cost-of-living adjustments for some military retirees and improve VA services.
AMHCA expects S.1982 will pass the Senate soon, when we will shift our focus to the conference committee with the House of Representatives. The original legislation (S.1155) was known as the “Rural Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act,” and was sponsored by Sen. John Tester (D–Mont.). Section 341 of S.1982 now directs the VA to hire mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists in their paid internship program.
Funds for all professions in the program (including social workers and psychologists) are directed to be apportioned equally.
A companion bill to S.1155 was introduced in the House as HR.3499, but first it will be considered in a conference committee on S.1982. AMHCA remains encouraged about the prospects for this strategic legislation that will ultimately boost VA hiring of clinical mental health counselors.