A look ahead to what the Practice Organization is doing on behalf of practicing psychologists in 2016.

Despite the gridlock that has characterized the current session of Congress, 2015 saw some legislative successes for practicing psychologists. In April, Congress overwhelmingly passed the Medicare Access and Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (MACRA) to repeal the flawed-Medicare sustainable growth rate and replaced it with a Medicare payment system based on rewarding quality and value. This averted a 21 percent cut in Medicare payment.

Even with a shortened legislative calendar due to the presidential election year, 2016 is shaping up to be a busy year. The following is a brief summary of what your Practice Organization is doing on behalf of practicing psychologists in 2016. 

Adding Psychologists to the Medicare Physician Definition

Treating Medicare patients without the oversight of physicians continues to be a top advocacy effort on behalf of psychologists who are Medicare providers. In December, Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., introduced H.R. 4277, the Medicare Mental Health Access Act, in the U.S. House of Representatives. This bipartisan legislation would allow psychologists to provide Medicare services to their patients without unnecessary physician supervision in all treatment centers by amending the Medicare definition of physician to include psychologists.

Reps. Noem and Schakowsky are members of the influential House Ways & Means Committee and House Energy & Commerce Committee, respectively. These committees have jurisdiction over health care legislation. APAPO is solidifying sponsors to introduce a companion bill in the U.S. Senate and more information will be forthcoming soon.

The Medicare Mental Health Access Act is professional psychology’s priority legislation, and we need your help contacting Congress. Visit the Practice Organization’s Legislative Action Center on the APA Practice Organization’s Practice Central website to write to your members of Congress and urge them to co-sponsor the Medicare Mental Health Access Act.

If you have a personal story of how physician certification requirements are causing treatment delays or other disruptions in your work with Medicare beneficiaries, please share it with APAPO staff by completing a short survey.

Increasing Psychologists’ Medicare Payment Rates Under the Physician Fee Schedule

Medicare payments to psychologists have declined significantly since 2001, because under the current formula, Medicare pays more for higher-cost, technology-driven services with high overhead. The Practice Organization continues to advocate for a change in the Medicare payment formula so that psychologists are appropriately and fairly compensated for treating Medicare beneficiaries. This work will continue this year.

Working to Enact Comprehensive Mental Health Reform Legislation

In June 2015, Tim Murphy, R-Pa., a psychologist, and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, a psychiatric nurse, introduced H.R. 2646, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015. This legislation focuses on reforming programs and providing needed resources for individuals with serious mental illness and their families.

The Practice Organization has worked closely with the bill sponsors and members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee to pass this vital legislation. With the help of psychologists who sent letters to their members of Congress, this legislation passed out of the Energy & Commerce’s Health Subcommittee. 

In August, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., a physician, and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., introduced S. 1945, the Mental Health Reform Act of 2015, which is similar to H.R. 2646, and focuses on creating a mental health system which efficiently and effectively offers patients, providers, families and caregivers access to timely and quality care. The Practice Organization has worked closely with the legislative sponsors to provide input and feedback on the legislative language.

Visit the Legislative Action Center to write to your members of Congress and ask that they support these bills.  

The Practice Organization also supports the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act, passed in the U.S. Senate in December. This bill, introduced by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., ranking member of the committee, reauthorizes and improves current programs that focus on suicide prevention, mental health care for children and older adults, mental health awareness training and the integration of mental and physical health care.