Federal Legislative Issues Updates:
“TRICARE Mental Health Care Access Act,” S. 3371
Alexandria, VA – May 18, 2010 – The counseling profession took a significant step forward with the introduction of Senate legislation (S. 3371) that will make it easier for TRICARE beneficiaries to see a professional mental health counselor. TRICARE is the health care system for servicemembers and their dependents, and licensed professional counselors are the only mental health professionals still required by law to see beneficiaries following physician referral and under physician supervision.
Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Susan Collins (R-ME) jointly introduced S. 3371 to allow licensed professional counselors to independently treat and diagnose TRICARE beneficiaries. The American Mental Health Counselors Association, the American Counseling Association and the National Board for Certified Counselors applaud the senators for sponsoring this legislation, as it is a much-needed step forward in giving TRICARE beneficiaries better access to highly skilled outpatient mental health professionals. Our three organizations are working closely together to gain the enactment of legislative language providing counselors independent practice rights as part of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Introduction of S. 3371 comes on the heels of a recently released Institute of Medicine (IOM) report that recommends independent practice of mental health counselors in TRICARE. The Institute of Medicine’s report, titled "Provision of Mental Health Counseling Services under TRICARE," was conducted pursuant to a request by Congress contained in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008. The IOM panel recommended granting independent practice authority for counselors who have:
Representatives Tom Rooney (R-FL) and Mike McMahon (D-NY) introduced a similar bill, H.R. 3839, last October. The Rooney-McMahon legislation would let any counselor participating in the TRICARE program practice independently, just like clinical social workers and marriage and family therapists have done for years. The legislation is currently being cosponsored by Reps. Bordallo (GU), Courtney (CT), Israel (NY), Jones (NC), Kilpatrick (MI), McMorris Rodgers (WA), Rodriguez (TX) and Shuster (PA).
for LMHC Medicare Reimbursement Bills
The time for enhanced recognition of LMHCs is now. Urge your federal legislators to support S.671 and H.R. 1693, legislation that, if enacted, will allow you as a Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHC) to be reimbursed at 75 percent of the Medicare allowable rate for the outpatient services you provide to seniors.
Today, health care comprises almost 20 percent of the United States=E 2s gross domestic product (GDP). In the next few weeks, legislators on the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees will come together to decide how to restructure this significant chunk of U.S. GDP.
LMHC Medicare Reimbursement bills, S. 671 and H.R. 1693?
DRAFT LETTER TO CONGRESS (copy & paste text into your word processing software))
____House/Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
RE: Please Co-Sponsor S. 671/H.R. 1693:
The Seniors Mental Health Access Improvement Act of 2009.
I am writing to strongly urge you to co-sponsor S. 671/H.R. 1693, The Seniors Mental Health Access Improvement Act, which would establish Medicare coverage for l icensed professional mental health counselors. With the exception of a recent federal law that finally equalized outpatient co-payments for mental health and medical/surgical services, the baseline Medicare mental health benefit has not been updated in almost 20 years. This inaction has consequences.
Improve Access in Rural Areas and Among Underserved Minority Populations:
Approximately 77 million older adults live in 3,000 mental health professional shortage areas. Yet over 50% of rural counties have no practicing psychologists, psychiatrists or social workers. It is shocking to note that fully two thirds of rural residents with mental illness symptoms receive no treatment at all. As a direct result of this lack of access, older Americans with chronic medical conditions and major depression (nearly 2 million senior citizens nationwide) have significantly higher rates of disability than those with either condition alone.
Similarly, in a report entitled "Mental Health: Culture, Race and Ethnicity," the United State Surgeon General noted that "striking disparities in access, quality and availability of mental health services exist for racial and ethnic minority Americans." A critical result of this disparity is that minority communities bear a disproportionately high burden of disability from untreated or inadequately treated mental disorders.
Making Medicare a Better Purchaser of Mental Health Care:
Inpatient psychiatric hospital utilization by elderly Medicare recipients is extraordinarily high—particularly when compared t o psychiatric hospitalization rates for patients covered by Medicaid, VA, TRICARE and private health insurance. To the extent that fully one third of these expensive inpatient placements are caused by clinical depression and addiction disorders, it is strikingly clear that additional community-based mental health services provided by licensed professional mental health counselors will reduce unneeded hospitalizations.
The bottom line is: lack of access to mental health care is increasing both the burden of disability on our senior citizens and minority communities as well as the financial burden on the Medicare program. Take action today. Co-sponsor H.R. 1693/ S. 671.
© 2007, Ohio Mental Health Counselor's Association.