CMS urged to include psychologists as providers of behavioral services for obesity

APA CEO Norman Anderson, PhD, recommends that CMS recognize psychologists as providers of behavioral services for obesity

By Government Relations Staff

October 14, 2011—In response to an August 30 proposed decision memo from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that failed to include psychologists among the eligible providers of behavioral services for obesity, APA CEO Norman B. Anderson, PhD, wrote to CMS Administrator Donald Berwick.

In his September 30 letter (PDF, 105KB) Dr. Anderson stated that APA supports CMS’ intent to provide Medicare beneficiaries with intensive behavioral counseling and behavioral therapy for obesity while recommending that CMS recognize psychologists as providers of behavioral services for obesity.

In addition, Dr. Anderson objected to CMS’ proposal to limit the delivery of obesity services provided to primary care settings, stating that beneficiaries could easily be treated in other community settings.

The 2010 federal health care reform law known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires Medicare to cover a variety of preventive services such as screenings for depression and counseling related to obesity, as well as tobacco and drug use. The APA Practice Organization and APA supported the inclusion of preventive services in the Affordable Care Act.

While pleased that the federal government is implementing new requirements for preventive services as a result of the law, organized psychology is addressing the problem of psychologists not being included among the “primary care professionals” eligible to provide these services. In response to related decision making by CMS, APA Executive Director for Professional Practice Katherine C. Nordal, PhD has formally asked the federal agency to incorporate psychologists as eligible providers for services related to obesity and smoking cessation.

In an August 30 comment letter to CMS (PDF, 26KB), Dr. Nordal recommended that CMS include language in the 2012 Medicare physician fee schedule indicating that upon identification of such behavioral risks as alcohol and tobacco use, primary care providers should refer beneficiaries to mental health professionals when necessary.