Psychology focuses on health care reform

by Government Relations Staff

March 26, 2009 — As the President affirms his desire to reform health care, the American Psychological Association (APA) Practice Organization is working to urge policymakers to pass health reform that integrates psychological services in primary care, preventive services and benefit packages.

Update on health care reform

Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), the Finance Committee Chairman, has prominently staked out where he wants to lead the Senate with the November 2008 release of a 90-page white paper that raised concerns for psychology advocates. In more than 300 visits to House and Senate offices during the March 2009 State Leadership Conference (SLC), psychologists asked that psychological services be included in every facet of reform legislation:

  • As primary care is given prominence in a reformed health care system, psychologists should be fully authorized to participate in the delivery of these services. Relevant legislation should integrate mental and behavioral services within primary care.
  • Mental health diagnoses need to be included as chronic conditions subject to medical home services. As preventive services are envisioned as a way to reduce costs, screening for depression and other key mental health services should be included.
  • Mental health services should be included in the health insurance benefit packages made available through health care reform.

Sen. Baucus is consulting with Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Senate leadership and the Obama administration. They expect to produce one bill that they hope will have bipartisan support. In the House, no chairman has yet proposed an outline of a health care reform bill, but the three chairmen with jurisdiction have declared that they will work together and make sure reform is a priority for action in 2009.

The coalitions to which the APAPO belongs are continuing a series of briefings on issues that will be considered in reform legislation with key congressional staffers.

A White House forum on reform held March 5 involved congressional leaders and representatives of organizations interested in health care reform, all pledging serious consideration of health care reform this year. The APAPO's interests were reflected by leaders of two coalitions in which we participate: the Campaign for Mental Health Reform and Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities.

The Obama Administration followed up on the forum by holding forums in five states in conjunction with governors. State psychological association leaders were present in the events held in North Carolina, Vermont and Iowa.

The recent congressional visits by psychology leaders during the State Leadership Conference (SLC) fostered connections with the nation's leaders that the government relations staff for the APAPO continues to build on as part of our ongoing advocacy for health care reform.

Networking to support professional psychology

Following is a sampling of recent events in which we took part:

The visit of the Ohio Psychological Association to the office of Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) during State Leadership Conference yielded an invitation for the APA Practice Organization to attend a March 12 health reform "stakeholders" meeting with Senate HELP Committee staff. Doug Walter, JD, Legislative Counsel in the Government Relations Department attended the meeting.

The advocacy groups called to the meeting represented a broad spectrum of interests including consumers, providers, employers and insurers. HELP staffers provided an inside view of the discussions on how they are assembling reform legislation. They explained which senators were taking the lead on each issue under consideration, how the HELP Committee was cooperating with the Finance Committee in preparing a reform bill and which outside advocacy organizations may be influential in the process. This intelligence is extremely helpful in guiding APAPO advocacy efforts.

During a March 12 breakfast held in her honor, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) discussed plans to move health care reform legislation that focuses on affordability, quality and accessibility. Peter Newbould praised Pelosi's leadership on parity and urged her to support the mind-body connection in health reform by integrating psychological services into primary care, prevention and health insurance benefit packages.

Newbould also talked with Pelosi's top health aide, who predicted that Medicare changes and health reform would move together in one bill this year. Pelosi's health care fellow said that she had a substantive meeting with California psychologists during SLC and she appreciated the expertise they brought to the table.

At a breakfast for Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) on Feb. 26, Mr. Newbould thanked the senator for supporting parity and suggested that he build on that achievement by integrating psychologists and psychological services into primary care in a reformed health system.