Psychology leaders gather for 29th State Leadership Conference

The four-day event featured educational and networking opportunities, and concluded with more than 300 meetings of psychology leaders with their members of Congress and Capitol Hill staff

By Communications staff

March 29, 2012—Nearly 500 psychology leaders from across the United States, its territories and Canada gathered for the 29th State Leadership Conference, “Bringing Psychology to the Table: State Leadership in Health Care Reform,” March 10-13 in Washington, DC.

This annual conference has become a primary instrument for achieving legislative advocacy successes such as mental health parity. The four-day conference, which includes numerous opportunities for education and networking among attendees, benefits both the leaders who participate and grassroots members whose understanding of and involvement in professional advocacy efforts is vital for psychology.

APA Executive Director for Professional Practice Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, welcomed attendees to the annual networking, education and advocacy event, saying, “We know that our members are concerned about health care reform…We know that the states are in the drivers’ seat, and most of what happens [in] health care reform is going to happen back home…And we know we can’t do it alone. Our advocacy depends on effective collaborations and effective partnerships and these are the relationships that we have to develop… if we are going to get the job done.”

Following briefings by APA Practice Organization government relations staff, attendees headed to Capitol Hill where they held more than 300 meetings with their members of Congress and staff.

SLC attendees took three key advocacy messages to the Hill: 

  • Congress should replace the flawed Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula and alter the existing favoritism of expensive technology-based specialty services over lower-cost mental health and primary care.

    The SGR payment formula ties Medicare provider payments to factors related to the national economy. In recent years, the formula would have operated automatically to cut most provider payments if Congress had not acted to postpone the scheduled payment cuts. With Congress having blocked the SGR cut several times over the past decade, the recurring postponement has resulted in an ever-increasing percentage by which provider payments would drop if the SGR cut took effect. 

    Psychologists will be hit with a devastating reimbursement reduction unless Congress halts a 32 percent cut scheduled for January 1, 2013. The U.S. government must find a way to control Medicare costs while still meeting beneficiary needs. However, the SGR formula that drastically cuts provider payments across the board is flawed.

    Medicare has incentivized greater spending, favoring higher-cost, technology-dependent specialties, while undermining and undervaluing low-overhead psychologists and primary care doctors. About 28,000 psychologists are Medicare providers, but an additional 3,000 who once participated in the program have left, largely due to low reimbursement rates. 

  • Congress should include psychologists in Medicare’s “physician” definition.

    Psychologists are key Medicare mental health providers, delivering nearly half of the psychotherapy services to Medicare beneficiaries in the hospital outpatient setting and more than 70 percent of the psychotherapy services in the hospital inpatient, partial hospital, and residential care settings. Psychologists also provide the vast majority of mental health testing services, many of which are unique to their training and licensure.

    Yet unnecessary physician supervision requirements in the Medicare program are hampering psychologists from providing to Medicare patients their full range of services within state licensure. Congress should pass the bill introduced by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME, introduced S. 483) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL, introduced H.R. 831) that 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 Medicare costs. 

  • Congress should make psychologists eligible for incentive payments through the HITECH Act.

    The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (“HITECH”) Act of 2009 significantly expanded the U.S. government’s efforts to establish a national electronic health records (EHRs) system. The Act authorizes the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to provide a reimbursement incentive for physician and hospital providers who are successful in becoming “meaningful users” of EHRs. Unfortunately, the Act excluded psychologists and most other non-physician providers from receiving Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments and grant funds to adopt EHRs.

    Congress should make psychologists eligible for existing HITECH Act incentive payments by passing the Behavioral Health Information Technology Act of 2011 sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and expected soon from Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA).