Medicare Physician Definition Bills Introduced in House and Senate

March 8, 2011—Key allies of professional psychology in the Senate and House have introduced legislation to include psychologists in the Medicare “physician” definition, an important first step toward ensuring that psychologists are able to provide Medicare mental health services free of unnecessary physician supervision requirements that hinder patient access. Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who sit on the Finance Committee, have sponsored S. 483, introduced on March 4. Congresswoman Janice Schakowsky (D-IL), who serves on the Energy & Commerce Committee, has taken the lead on H.R. 831, introduced on February 28.

Psychologists are key Medicare mental health providers, delivering nearly half of the psychotherapy services to Medicare beneficiaries in the hospital outpatient setting and more than 70 percent of the psychotherapy services in the hospital inpatient, partial hospital, and residential care settings. Psychologists also provide the vast majority of mental health testing services, many of which are unique to their training and licensure.

The Medicare beneficiary population will explode in the coming decades. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), individuals age 65 and older will comprise 20 percent of the country’s population by 2030. This means increased demand for mental health treatment as the number of older adults with mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, and dementia, grows from 7 to15 million. Psychologists will take on a greater role in working with physicians and other Medicare providers to address co-morbid physical and mental/substance use disorders.

The Snowe and Schakowsky bills will allow psychologists to be treated like all other non-physician providers already included in the Medicare physician definition, thereby ending unnecessary physician supervision without increasing Medicare costs.

Government Relations staff has been coordinating and strategizing with grassroots psychology leaders in Illinois, Maine, New Mexico and other states for the past several months to move this effort forward and  on Tuesday March 15, the final day of the 28th State Leadership Conference, psychologists from across the country will descend on Capitol Hill to press the case for inclusion in the “physician” definition, among other advocacy initiatives that support professional psychology.