The year in advocacy: Practice wins in 2017

Revisit last year’s legislative and regulatory accomplishments for psychologists.

It’s a new year, which means new resolutions and maybe new hopes for what policymakers might address this year. Before we move on to your 2018 legislative wish list, let’s revisit what psychologists’ advocacy efforts and Practice Organization membership helped accomplish in 2017.

Psychologists fought arduously against Congress’s and the Trump Administration’s efforts to change and repeal the Affordable Care Act. 

In 2017, practicing psychologists voiced their strong opposition to every new proposal to dilute the ACA’s protections, destabilize its insurance markets, and eliminate or detrimentally alter Medicaid for millions of Americans. Practice Organization members responded to more than 20 Action Alerts and updates regarding the attempts by Congress to repeal the ACA. Psychologists heeded the call and rose to the occasion each time, sending over 48,000 messages urging Congress to preserve the law.

Practice government relations staff led the charge on multiple joint responses with APA opposing the American Health Care Act, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson proposal, “skinny” repeal, and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which effectively gutted the ACA’s Individual Shared Responsibility provisions.

More than 30 members of Congress gave their support for the psychologist physician definition bill.

Practice Organization members’ visits to Congress during 2017 Practice Leadership Conference and throughout the year helped us gain 32 cosponsors on the House version of the Medicare Mental Health Access Act (H.R. 1173 / S. 448 — “MMHA”), including eight Republican cosponsors. The bill would allow psychologists to provide Medicare services without unnecessary physician supervision and to potentially obtain bonus payments in Medicare mental health professional shortage areas.

The bill, reintroduced early last year, is sponsored by Reps. Kristie Noem, R-S.D., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill, and Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Susan Collins, R-Maine.

The Practice Organization suggested new federal reimbursement models for mental and behavioral health care centered around psychologists. 

In comments (PDF, 89KB) to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI), we encouraged the agency to design additional reimbursement models with psychotherapy as the core treatment for patients suffering from mental illness, especially in primary care settings. In addition, we suggested that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services build upon the success of its existing Behavioral Health Integration initiatives to expand the accessibility of mental and behavioral health services to children with depression and ADHD. We also voiced its strong support for the development of care models that integrate psychologists into obstetrical and gynecology and long-term care settings.

Republican and Democratic members of Congress introduced legislation to encourage psychologists’ use of electronic health records. 

The Improving Access to Behavioral Health Information Technology Act (H.R. 3331 / S. 1732), sponsored by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Reps. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., and Doris Matsui, D-Calif., would authorize CMMI to implement a demonstration program that provides financial incentives to mental and behavioral health care providers for adopting electronic health records (EHR). This bill would help alleviate some of the cost psychologists incur when using EHRs for their practice.

The Practice Organization is preparing for more in-depth consideration of opioid-related policies by Congress in 2018.

Last year, Practice staff led the development of a joint APA-Practice Organization response, incorporating input from Divs. 12, 28 and 50, to the Interim Report by the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. Our comments emphasized the need to expand access to substance use disorder treatment through Medicaid; the need to increase funding for both treatment and research; and the importance of evidence-based chronic pain management, including the use of appropriate billing codes for psychological services.