Advocating for health care reform on Capitol Hill and at home

A review of how the Practice Organization has been working for you on Capitol Hill in July, and how you can bring the messages crucial to psychology to your representatives next month

by Government Relations Staff

July 28, 2009 — The American Psychological Association (APA) Practice Organization has been hard at work to ensure a place at the table for professional psychology in health care reform and Medicare legislation, and, come August, we'll be asking you to join the effort at home.

Here's a summary of how the Practice Organization has been working for you on Capitol Hill in July and how you can help bring the messages crucial to psychology to your representatives next month:

July wrap-up

  • APA Executive Director for Professional Practice Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, joined other invited health care practitioners, leaders and aides to President Obama on July 2 for the latest in an ongoing series of discussions organized by the Obama administration

    As a member of this most recent White House Stakeholder Discussion Group, Dr. Nordal emphasized that health reform must include psychological services as part of primary care and stressed the need for fundamental change in the delivery of health care, as well as the importance of an integrated health services delivery system that fully cares for mind and body.

    "I'd like to make the case for fully integrated care," Nordal said during the meeting, which was shown live online. "Mental health and substance abuse need to be treated like other disorders...We need health care teams that treat the whole person."

    Dr. Nordal was accompanied by practicing psychologists Jean Carter, PhD, of Washington, DC, and Mary Karapetian Alvord, PhD, of Silver Spring, MD.

  • The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee passed its version of health care reform, the Affordable Health Choices Act (AHCA), which included integration of psychologists and psychological services in primary care settings

    This was the result of effective direct lobbying, mobilization of key contact psychologists and APAPO attendance at events facilitated by generous contributions of psychologists through AAP/PLAN

    The Senate Finance Committee will introduce its health care reform bill in the near future, which is expected to focus on Medicare as well. Once this legislation has been introduced the APA Practice Organization will weigh in with the committee leadership to express its support for specific provisions and share our recommendations for how to strengthen the legislation. The Finance Committee votes are expected in September.

  • On July 17, 2009, Dr. Norman Anderson, PhD, Chief Executive Officer of the American Psychological Association (APA) wrote a letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the House of Representatives joint Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Education and Labor Committees expressing the support of the APA for America's Affordable Health Choices Act H.R. 3200.

    Dr. Anderson expressed gratitude for the inclusion of several APA priorities, but also made recommendations, which included advancing integrated care in service delivery and amending the Medicare Medical Home Pilot Program.

    As currently written, the Medicare program favors nurse practitioners and doctors. With the addition of the Practice Organization's suggested amendment, the program would include all qualified health care providers as part of an integrated team, as the Senate's version does, with its focus on integrated care through "health teams."

    This legislation was referred to all three committees for substantive review, and was subsequently passed by the Ways and Means Committee and the Education and Labor Committee; the Energy and Commerce Committee continues to negotiate about specific provisions within the legislation.

    Once all of the bills have been introduced and moved favorably through their committees of reference, they would then be referred to the floor of the House of Representatives or Senate. Upon passage of the bills, members of the two bodies would have to reconcile the differences in the bills.

    The process would continue with the bills going to conference committee vote. Once passed, they would be referred back to each house for passage before they can, finally, be signed into law.

    We will continue working with our contacts in Congress to champion the issues that matter to practicing psychologists, and we will once again call on our grassroots network to make their voices heard as needed before healthcare reform is finally law.

Grassroots advocacy in August

The APA Practice Organization (APAPO) advocates on behalf of psychology through direct lobbying, grassroots mobilization and political giving. A critical component of these efforts, the 60,000 constituent psychologist-strong APAPO Federal Advocacy Network communicates with elected officials about how policy efforts in Washington directly affect practitioners and their patients at home.

The APAPO uses an on-line advocacy system to facilitate high-quantity email communications from grassroots psychologists to their elected officials. Responding to Action Alerts from their Federal Advocacy Coordinators (FACs), psychologists send messages to their legislators on critical mental health issues in less than a minute from the Legislative Action Center (in the upper right-hand column).

In 2007 and 2008, the APAPO harnessed the power of its members to deliver more than 39,000 messages to Capitol Hill on mental health parity, leading to the historic passage of the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. Psychologists also sent more than 33,000 messages advocating for fair Medicare reimbursement, helping to avert the scheduled Sustainable Growth Rate cut and securing an 18-month 5% psychotherapy payment restoration.

Each state, provincial and territorial association (SPTA) appoints an FAC to organize and supervise federal grassroots initiatives for each of the 54 states/territories. In addition, 23 APA divisions have appointed an FAC.

Notification of all federal legislative requests-for-action from the APAPO come by way of Action Alerts via email from FACs or outreach from Government Relations staff or the two regional field team consultants.

Requested advocacy activity covers a wide range, including writing letters and making calls to Congress, meeting face-to-face with legislators, attending town hall meetings and publishing op-eds and letters to the editor.

Most frequently, Action Alerts request two types of advocacy, either high-quantity (many grassroots communications from constituent psychologists) or high-quality (one to five grassroots communications from key contact psychologists with relationships with legislators or their staff) mobilization.

During the August recess, as Senators and Representatives return to their home districts, they will be paying more attention than usual to the concerns of constituents, which will provide us with an excellent opportunity to deliver critically important messages on psychology's top legislative priorities on their home turf.

Watch for news from your FAC in early August for a list of those legislators who need to hear from you and how best you can help deliver the message to them.