Pro-psychology bills advance in Congress

The House of Representatives passes the CHAMP Act, with Medicare payment implications for psychologists, and the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 will soon get full Senate consideration

by Government Relations and Communications Staff

Psychology gained significant developments with two of its top legislative priorities shortly before the congressional recess in early August. The House passed a children’s health bill that would restore Medicare payments for psychologists, while the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 is positioned for likely consideration shortly after the Senate reconvenes.

CHAMP: A legislative win for psychology
On August 1, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Children’s Health and Medicare Protection Act (CHAMP, H.R. 3162). The vote followed psychology’s successful efforts to convince leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee to include language in the bill that would restore $120 million in psychological services for Medicare beneficiaries over the next four years and significantly restore reimbursement for psychologists in particular. Medicare mental health payments were cut by 9 percent beginning January 1, 2007 as a result of action taken by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The House bill would help reverse this steep payment reduction.

Grassroots psychologists throughout the country were instrumental in pressing for House passage of this bill language. Constituent psychologists lobbied their House members to encourage the Ways and Means Committee to add the provision. Psychologists generated more than 10,000 emails to their elected officials to support restoration of Medicare payments for mental health services.

CHAMP is intended primarily to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, increasing its funding by $50 billion over five years in order to cover several million more children. The House bill has an additional provision that will benefit psychology and mental health: a reduction in Medicare’s 50 percent copayment on outpatient mental health services to a 20 percent copayment level — at parity with other Medicare services. Psychology advocates observe that this particular provision may not survive because of its cost implications.

Even so, for psychology advocates, this proposed change in Medicare law as embodied in CHAMP represents a legislative milestone for professional psychology.

The legislative process has just begun with House passage of CHAMP, and many observers believe a tough road lies ahead. The Medicare funding restoration for psychological services must be accepted by the Senate, where comparable legislation related to children’s health does not include any Medicare changes. And the bill ultimately must be signed into law by the president, who has signaled that he will veto the legislation in its current form.

Parity bill poised for full Senate consideration
The full Senate is expected to consider S. 558, the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 in September. If passed, more than 113 Americans would be covered by health plans required to treat mental health disorders the same as physical illness.

S. 558 mandates full parity protection for all aspects of plan coverage — including day/visit limits, dollar limits, coinsurance, copayments, deductibles, and out-of-pocket maximums. The act would establish minimum standards, while maintaining states’ power to exceed federal requirements through their own parity laws.

The Congressional Budget Office projects that achieving mental health parity will increase insurance premiums by an average of only 0.4 percent.

S. 558 represents the first time business and insurance companies, such as Aetna and Blue Cross/Blue Shield, have supported mental health parity legislation. The APA Practice Organization played a critical role in drafting the legislation and remains instrumental in maintaining the support of diverse groups — a crucial factor for legislative success.