Psychologists hit the halls of Congress as House begins voting on health care reform legislation

Twelve hours after members of the House of Representatives publicly released the “American Health Care Act” (AHCA), hundreds of psychologists made more than 300 lobbying visits to their members of Congress on March 7 asking them not to enact health care reform legislation that would reduce coverage for mental health and substance use treatment. Psychologists were in Washington, D.C., for the 2017 Practice Leadership Conference hosted by the APA Practice Organization and American Psychological Association. This annual conference brings together psychology leaders from across the U.S. for four days of advocacy leadership training culminating with visits to members of Congress.

“We are facing dramatic changes to health care that will impact psychologists and the patients they serve,” says Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, executive director for professional practice. “Psychologists have the opportunity — and the responsibility — to shape the future of our profession, and possibly the future of American health care.” 

The APA Practice Organization is deeply concerned about provisions that would reduce mental health and substance use coverage for millions of Americans enrolled in Medicaid, and likely contribute to the loss of coverage for millions more individuals covered by private sector plans. Both the APA and the Practice Organization are submitting a joint letter of concern to the House Ways & Means Committee and Energy & Commerce Committee.

The House health care reform bill would dramatically change current law protections and programs.  Among other provisions, the AHCA would:

  • Change Medicaid from its current open-ended structure into a system in which federal payments to state are capped on a per-capita basis.
  • Phase out federal funding for expanded coverage under Medicaid beginning in 2020, threatening coverage for an estimated 11 million Americans who did not have it before the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) was enacted in 2010.
  • Eliminate the requirement that Medicaid programs covering newly eligible beneficiaries provide an essential benefits package including mental health and substance use treatments.
  • Reduce and restructure financial support for buying insurance, and eliminate cost-sharing subsidies for low-income individuals.
  • Allow private sector health plans to charge older Americans significantly higher premiums than under current law.

On March 8, the House Ways & Means Committee approved portions of the AHCA repealing hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes on upper-income Americans, insurance companies and others. The taxes were enacted in 2010 to pay for current law Medicaid coverage, premium supports and cost-sharing reductions for lower-income Americans. The House Energy & Commerce Committee approved the bill on March 9, including the provisions listed above. The legislation will now be compiled into a final package by the House Budget Committee and then brought to the House floor for passage. House leaders hope to complete this process by the week of March 21 so that the legislation can be sent to the Senate for its consideration and adoption before next congressional recess scheduled to begin April 10.

During the Energy & Commerce Committee’s first day of work on the legislation, Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., offered an amendment to the AHCA to convey the importance of continuing mental health coverage at parity. The APA Practice Organization supported the amendment. Congressman Murphy was honored with our Outstanding Leadership Award two days earlier, on Monday, March 6, during the Practice Leadership Conference.

No hearings have been held on the AHCA, and the legislation has not been evaluated by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Although the committee votes are happening in the absence of a CBO analysis, evaluations by health care policy experts project that the Medicaid changes in the legislation would reduce federal payments to states by $370 billion over the next 10 years, with even deeper cuts occurring beyond this window.

For more information, contact the ACA Practice Organization’s government relations office.