No recess for grassroots advocacy on health care reform

Congress adjourned for recess on August 7 without giving the President a health care bill to sign

by Government Relations Staff

August 27, 2009 — Congress adjourned for recess on August 7 without giving the President a health care bill to sign. Concerns about the reform bill's one trillion dollar-plus price tag and the issue of the "public plan" — a primary mechanism for covering the uninsured-slowed down the legislative process surrounding Medicare and health care reform.

We now anticipate that a health reform bill will not go to the Senate and House floors until sometime well into the fall. We are looking forward to the fall debate -to protecting our successes while working to make the reform bill as strong as possible for psychology. And we need your help!

August Hill wrap-up

Earlier this summer, the three key House committees of jurisdiction — the Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means Committees — included psychology's top priority, a two-year extension of the 5 percent psychology payment restoration, in their joint draft of health care reform legislation.

Each committee has now passed its version of the America's Affordable Health Choices Act (H.R. 3200), and each has included the restoration extension.

The bills would also prevent the 21 percent Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) cut from taking effect in 2010 and provide an estimated 1 percent update in provider payments in 2010. Next the House Rules Committee is expected to merge the three bills into one final version for consideration on the House floor in September.

On the Senate side, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed its Affordable Health Choices Act on July 15. The bill did not contain any Medicare provisions due to the committee's jurisdiction, but it is very favorable for psychology, including broad provisions for care integration fully incorporating mental and behavioral health providers. It also requires coverage of mental health and substance use benefits in health plans available through a national insurance exchange.

Grassroots action

During the August recess, psychologists answered our call for grassroots action. Between August 4 and August 25, more than 4500 members utilized the Legislative Action Center to tell their Senators and Representative that Congress should pass comprehensive health care reform legislation that includes the 5 percent psychology payment restoration extension and fully integrates psychologists and psychological services into the delivery system.

"Members are the key to ensuring that professional psychology's voice is heard in the ongoing health care reform debate and to help promote and protect our interests as legislation moves toward passage," says Executive Director for Professional Practice Katherine C. Nordal, PhD.

Your action is critically needed today. Click here by September 4 to urge your Senators and Representative to include psychology's priorities in Medicare legislation

Grassroots feedback is extremely important to our advocacy efforts, so we would very much appreciate it if you would e-mail or fax (202-336-5797) us any substantive responses (other than auto-responses) you have received from your Senators or Representative.

Nancy Molitor, PhD, a practitioner in private practice in Wilmette, IL, takes the call to action seriously. A volunteer in the office of her county officials and her congresswoman, Molitor believes that elected officials "get to know our issues by getting to know us individually."

"The ongoing health care reform debate offers us a unique opportunity to advocate for the inclusion of psychologists and psychological services in a reformed health care delivery system," says Dr. Nordal and Molitor is excited to be close to the action. "This is an historic moment for psychologists to be seen as health care providers," Molitor says.

Molitor also participated in a health care conference call with President Obama on August 20 in which the president discussed his thoughts and objectives on the reform effort.

On March 4, psychology leaders from throughout the country took messages about our legislative priorities to over 335 meetings on Capitol Hill during the American Psychological Association Practice Organization State Leadership Conference. Our government relations team has prepared these fact sheets on psychology's priorities:

On the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy
The APA Practice Organization mourns the death of Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. His passing is a great loss for the nation, psychologists and their patients. His great compassion and pragmatism made him a tireless champion throughout his career for the underrepresented, including persons with mental disorders. For us, he was a leader in the U.S. Senate on issues ranging from fighting for insurance reform to our recent victory on mental health parity. We express our deepest sympathy to the Kennedy family.