State Beat

Across the country, psychology boards are regularly threatened by consolidation efforts. Learn how Ohio psychologists are fighting to keep their board independent.

By Hannah Calkins

Over the last 20-25 years, state lawmakers have frequently proposed eliminating independent psychology boards and merging them with other behavioral health boards, usually arguing that consolidation will result in administrative efficiency and cost savings. But the push for consolidated licensing boards, or “omnibus boards,” comes from a lack of understanding of what psychologists do or how psychology boards work, says Deborah C. Baker, JD, director of legal and regulatory policy at the APA Practice Organization.

This is happening now in Ohio, where on Jan. 30, Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio, released a budget proposal (PDF, 10.52MB) for 2018 that would eliminate the state’s Board of Psychology, as well as two master’s-level licensing boards, and combine them into a “State Behavioral Health and Social Work Board.” If approved, the practice of psychology in Ohio would be regulated by a nine-member board that included only one psychologist (as well as one school psychologist).

Michael O. Ranney, MPA, the executive director of the Ohio Psychological Association (OPA), is concerned that this would impede the already-slow pace of licensure, as well as confuse and endanger consumers. “Psychology practice has its own identity, code of ethics and rules,” he says. “A consolidated board simply can’t provide the public with the level of protection that an independent one does.”

OPA has been here before — as recently as November 2016, when Ohio lawmakers introduced two companion bills proposing to merge psychology regulation into an omnibus behavioral health board. Those bills were not successful, says Ranney, and that is largely because of the work that OPA, as part of a coalition of 16 professional associations, did to defeat them.

In November, the coalition successfully argued in a letter to the Ohio General Assembly that board consolidation would be inefficient, chaotic and detrimental to public safety, as it had been shown to be in other states. They also pointed out that legislators’ arguments about cutting costs weren’t valid, since independent boards are self-sustaining and do not operate with state revenue funds.

This year, to block renewed efforts to eliminate the psychology board, OPA is launching a media campaign, which will include op-eds and letters to the editor. Ranney says OPA will also argue that board consolidation and its effects will lead psychologists away from choosing to practice or be educated in Ohio.

That same argument was successful in New Hampshire, according to Michael Phillips, PhD, a board member of the New Hampshire Psychological Association. In 2012, the state legislature reinstituted the independent psychology board, citing that the challenging practice conditions created by the omnibus board made it difficult to attract psychologists to practice in New Hampshire.

Currently, Kansas is the only state that regulates the practice of psychology as part of an omnibus behavioral health board. But other states have reinstituted independent boards after consolidating. Many more states, including Rhode Island, Oregon, and Pennsylvania, have considered consolidation but ultimately decided not to proceed, Baker says. Even so, she anticipates that states will continue to propose consolidation, especially states with conservative legislatures that usually support less regulation.

For now, Baker reports that there are no other proposals or pieces of legislation in the U.S. regarding omnibus mental health boards. However, the Texas Sunset Commission — the body that regularly assesses government agencies in that state — may recommend consolidation soon, and the Practice Organization will be monitoring the rest of the country for similar developments.

“We’re committed to helping psychologists protect their independent boards, whether that means sharing information across states, helping state associations craft arguments and write letters, or writing letters ourselves,” Baker says.

Practice Organization members with questions about board consolidation are encouraged to contact our Legal and Regulatory staff.