Hundreds of psychology leaders call on Congress

by Government Relations Staff

March 26, 2009 — Nearly 600 psychology leaders from across the United States and its territories, as well as Canada, participated in the 26th annual State Leadership Conference (SLC) held March 1-4 in Washington, DC. Following briefings by government relations staff for the American Psychological Association Practice Organization (APAPO), the conference culminated in more than 300 meetings of SLC participants with their members of Congress and staff on Capitol Hill.

The grassroots advocates for professional psychology called on congressional officials to:

Psychology advocates also shared more information on integrated care in their meetings.

SLC participants include state, provincial and territorial psychological association (SPTA) leaders, as well as division and other APA governance officials. Attendees include SPTA presidents and presidents-elect, executive directors and directors of professional affairs, representatives of APA Graduate Students (APAGS), and others. The Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice (CAPP) and many SPTAs also provide funding for Diversity and Early Career Psychologist Delegates to attend the conference.

The psychology advocates uniformly reported receiving a warm welcome in congressional offices. As observed by Michelle Carro, PhD, legislative chair for the Nevada Psychological Association, "Our senators and representatives were very receptive to our messages and gave us plenty of time to expand on the issues."

The conference has become a primary instrument for achieving legislative advocacy successes such as mental health parity and Medicare reimbursement laws. Marilyn Richmond, JD, the APAPO's assistant executive director for government relations, noted that SLC attendee visits on the Hill enable professional psychology to share its messages with key members of Congress.

"Every March, hundreds of our constituent psychologists fan out to congressional offices to get the pulse of their representatives on issues critical to the profession," Richmond said, adding that their visit reports enable APAPO to advance psychology's interests by building on congressional support elicited by SLC participants.

"These difficult economic times make seeking funding in legislation all the more challenging," she noted. "But we're buoyed by the positive impact psychology leaders reported from their recent meetings."

In addition to advocacy by grassroots psychologists, the political action committee sponsored by an affiliate of the APA Practice Organization has been active as well.

Association for the Advancement of Psychology/Psychologists for Legislative Action Now has bought tickets to numerous events, including a March 10 reception for Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) attended by Doug Walter, JD. The congressman chairs the Energy & Commerce Health Subcommittee, which will consider Medicare legislation as well as health care reform this year; Walter is legislative counsel on the APAPO Government Relations staff.

Walter thanked Pallone for his support last year for a provision in the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act (MIPPA) that restored Medicare mental health payments that had been cut because of a 2007 rule by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Walter asked the congressman to support an extension of the MIPPA pay restoration, currently set to expire on December 31, 2009.

Pallone reaffirmed his support for the psychology provision, noting that it would have to be considered in the broader context of Medicare and health care reform legislation in the coming year.