APA Practice Organization seeks cosponsors for Medicare "physician" definition bills

If passed, the Medicare "physician" definition bill would ensure that psychologists are able to provide Medicare mental health services free of unnecessary physician supervision requirements

By Government Relations Staff

April 14, 2011—In its most recent step to ensure that psychologists are able to provide Medicare mental health services free of unnecessary physician supervision requirements that hinder patient access, the APA Practice Organization (APAPO) on April 6 sent a letter to members of Congress requesting cosponsorship of Medicare “physician” definition bills in the House and Senate.

Congresswoman Janice Schakowsky (D-IL) and Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), key allies of professional psychology, took the lead in the House and Senate, sponsoring H.R. 831 and S. 483.

According to the data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 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 to 15 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/Schakowsky bill would allow psychologists to be treated like all other doctoral-level non-physician providers already included in the Medicare physician definition.

On Tuesday March 15, the final day of the 28th State Leadership Conference, psychologists from across the country had more than 300 meetings on Capitol Hill, delivering psychology's message on psychologist inclusion in the physician definition, among other advocacy initiatives that support professional psychology. So far this year, grassroots psychologists have sent nearly 10,000 messages  to congressional offices, a critical component of professional psychology’s advocacy.

APAPO’s letter, signed by Marilyn Richmond, JD, Assistant Executive Director for Government Relations, pointed out that inclusion of psychologists in the physician definition will not expand their scope of practice, but rather “provide for a long-overdue reassessment of the services psychologists may provide within licensure without supervision.”

Read the full text of the letter.