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Legislative Update
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03/03/14

March Action in Congress Is Crucial to CMHCs’
Medicare Hopes

By James Finley
Associate Executive Director and Director of Public Policy
AMHCA Seeks Grassroots Action on Medicare

House and Senate congressional leaders plan to consider just a few major bills during the rest of this year, and legislation to reform Medicare physician fees is at the top of their list to complete.

Congress has scheduled most of March to work in the Capitol, and much of their time will focus on passing Medicare physician-payment legislation. Therefore, this is the vehicle to carry the Medicare provider status bill (S.562/HR.3662) supported by AMHCA. All small Medicare changes will be considered within the debate on physician payments because this is very likely the only Medicare bill that will pass this year. 

AMHCA strongly urges all its members to contact their legislators now to support S.562/HR.3662 and extend Medicare provider status to the profession. 

The most effective way to demonstrate congressional support for adding this bill to the larger physician fee bill is to increase the number of co-sponsors on S.562/HR.3662.  Background information for sending email messages to Congress is available on AMHCA’s Advocacy page. The information there also includes how to contact your Representative, and sample wording for an email appeal.

In the most recent developments on Medicare legislation, a major rewrite of the

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.

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

Veterans Legislation That Would Boost Hiring of CMHCs Looks Promising

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.

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