House bill would include psychologists in Medicare “physician” definition

A newly introduced House bill is the first step toward ensuring that licensed psychologists are able to provide Medicare mental health services free of unnecessary and outdated physician supervision requirements

by Communications Staff

September 30, 2010 — In an exciting development for professional psychology, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced legislation (HR 6147) on September 16 to include psychologists in the Medicare “physician” definition. 

Psychology proponents hailed the development as an important first step in a long process to ensure that licensed psychologists are able to provide Medicare mental health services free of unnecessary and outdated physician supervision requirements that hinder patient access. 

“We are pleased that Congresswoman Schakowsky has chosen to lead the charge on this important issue for practicing psychologists,” said Marilyn Richmond, JD, assistant executive director for government relations in the APA Practice Organization (APAPO). She noted that Rep. Schakowsky plays a key role on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over Medicare legislation.

In a September 16 letter (PDF, 126 KB), APA Executive Director for Professional Practice Katherine Nordal, PhD, also commended Rep. Schakowsky for her leadership role in support of professional psychology. 

The momentum has been building in recent months leading up to the bill’s introduction.  “This year appeared to offer an opening for us to pursue inclusion in the physician definition, so we seized the opportunity,” said Doug Walter, JD, legislative and regulatory counsel for government relations.   

He noted that more than 300 psychologists visited their members of Congress during the APA Practice Organization’s March 2010 State Leadership Conference. Among their messages: Psychologists should be included in Medicare’s “physician” definition to improve patient access to necessary mental health services.

Walter and others on the lobbying team for APAPO had been working  since then to identify and recruit a champion for psychology’s cause on Capitol Hill. 

Even with key legislators’ support, the path to legislative success will not be smooth. APAPO anticipates that the bill will draw strong opposition from organized medicine. 

HR 6147 does not reconstitute clinical psychologists as physicians, and inclusion in the physician definition will not expand a psychologist’s scope of practice. Instead, as with other non-physician providers already in the Medicare “physician” definition, psychologists will be able to provide services to Medicare beneficiaries to the full extent of their licensure as permitted under state law. Psychologists are the only doctoral-trained Medicare providers not already included in the “physician” definition. 

APAPO plans to focus on gaining a Senate sponsor and building bipartisan support for the bill. The coming weeks are critical for determining future strategy.

“We’ll need to see where things stand on Capitol Hill after the midterm elections in November,” said Walter, “including who controls Congress and by what margins, and what members hold key leadership positions.”

We need your help — Take action now 

As always, grassroots psychologists are instrumental to professional psychology’s advocacy work. Visit our Legislative Action Center at Practice Central to send a customizable email or printed letter calling on your Representative to co-sponsor HR 6147. It’s quick and easy — and critically important.