As physician definition bills gain support, grassroots advocacy crucial

Legislation to include psychologists in the Medicare “physician” definition now has the support of 25 House and 5 Senate cosponsors

By Government Relations Staff

May 12, 2011—In the weeks since key Senate and House allies of professional psychology introduced legislation to include psychologists in the Medicare “physician” definition, the issue has gained support. But opponents have been active, making continued grassroots advocacy crucial to the legislation’s passage.

As of May 11, 25 House members are cosponsoring H.R. 831 and five Senators are cosponsoring S. 483. The bill has also been endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers, National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, the Association for Ambulatory Behavioral Healthcare and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.

Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who sit on the Finance Committee, originally sponsored S. 483 on March 4; Energy & Commerce Committee member Congresswoman Janice Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced H.R. 831 on February 28.

But along with the increase in support has been vocal opposition from the American Psychiatric Association. The group sent a blast email to each House and Senate health legislative assistant in which it asserts that psychology presented the bill “as a simple and innocuous way to improve access to mental health services, particularly in rural communities…. [but] the claims are simply not substantiated by the facts.”

The APAPO is continuing to push for bill cosponsors in staff and grassroots lobbying by explaining how its passage would improve the Medicare mental health benefit accessibility: The Medicare beneficiary population will explode in the coming decades. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), individuals age 65 and older will comprise 20 percent of the country’s population by 2030. This means increased demand for mental health treatment as the number of older adults with mental disorders, including depression, anxiety and dementia, grows from 7 to 15 million. Psychologists will assume greater roles in working with physicians and other Medicare providers to address comorbid physical and mental/substance use disorders.

The Snowe and Schakowsky bill will allow psychologists to be treated like all other non-physician providers already included in the Medicare physician definition, thereby ending unnecessary physician supervision without increasing net Medicare costs.

The grassroots push for bill cosponsors remains essential to our strategy. Visit the Legislative Action Center to urge your Senators and Representative to include psychologists in the Medicare physician definition.