National Legislation (9/2015)

 Two bills have been introduced in Congress including Mental Health Counselors [LPCs] and LMFTs as Medicare providers.  We have been waiting for this for quite some time, we now have an opportunity to make this happen. It is critically important that we contact our two Senators and our Representatives to request them to sign on to these bills. Medicare recognition will open many doors now closed to us. Please call or email them now. 
 
 
New bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to extend Medicare provider status to mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists. On July 22, 2015 Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) introduced the "Seniors Mental Health Access Improvement Act" (S. 1830) and on June 12, 2015 Representatives Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Mike Thompson (D-CA) introduced the House version as (HR. 2759). The identical bills would allow Medicare beneficiaries access to mental health counselor services and marriage and family therapists (MFTs) through Medicare. By providing these mental health professionals the opportunity to participate in the Medicare program, the bills expand the number of mental health providers available to beneficiaries. 

The time to promote Medicare recognition of mental health counselors and MFTs is now. Urge your two Senators and Representative to co-sponsor this vital legislation that would authorize MHCs and MFTs to be paid by Medicare for outpatient mental health services to beneficiaries. 

Action Requested
LCA members are urged to email their two U.S. Senators and one Representative to urge them to co-sponsor S. 1830/HR. 2759. You may find their Senators and Representative's email address on their office websites. See these suggested email messages to Senate andHouse offices. 

Background and Justification
About 50 percent of rural counties have no practicing psychiatrists or psychologists. Mental Health Counselors and MFTs are often the only mental health providers in many communities, and yet they are not now recognized as covered providers within the Medicare program. These therapists have equivalent or greater training, education and practice rights as currently eligible provider groups that can bill for mental health services through Medicare. 

Other government agencies already recognize these professions for independent practice, including The National Health Service Corps, the Dept. of Veterans' Affairs and TRICARE. Medicare needs to utilize the skills of these providers to ensure that beneficiaries have access to necessary services. 

Important Points that you can use:

·         Lack of Access in Rural and Underserved Areas--Approximately 20 percent of individuals aged 55 and older experience some type of mental health problem. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, there are approximately 4,000 Mental Health Professionals Shortage Areas in the United States, and half of all counties in the U.S. have no practicing psychiatrists, psychologists or clinical social workers. However, many of these mental health professional shortage areas have mental health counselors whose services are underutilized due to lack of Medicare coverage.

        Medicare Inefficiency--Currently, Medicare is a very inefficient purchaser of mental health services. Inpatient psychiatric hospital utilization by elderly Medicare recipients is extraordinarily high when compared to psychiatric hospitalization rates for patients covered by Medicaid, VA, TRICARE, and private health insurance. One-third of these expensive inpatient placements are caused by clinical depression and addiction disorders that can be treated for much lower costs when detected early through the outpatient mental health services of MHCs.

        Underserved Minority Populations--The United State Surgeon General noted in a report entitled Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity 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.

        Medicare provider eligibility for mental health counselors and MFTs is long overdue--These two professions represent over 40 percent of today's licensed mental health practitioners. Unfortunately, Medicare has not been modernized to recognize their essential contribution in today's health delivery system. Congressional scoring rules obscure the dollars saved by utilizing their services to treat mental health conditions before they exacerbate into more serious mental and physical disorders.

National Legislation

S. 562—the “Seniors Mental Health Access Improvement Act of 2013

Sponsors: Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Senator John Barrasso (R-WY)                                                                                         LATEST INFORMATION                                                                                                                                                          Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the Senate to establish Medicare reimbursement of licensed professional counselors and marriage and family therapists.  As with previous versions of the legislation, S. 562 would cover only medically-necessary outpatient mental health services, and would reimburse licensed professional counselors and marriage and family therapists at the same reimbursement rates, and under the same terms and conditions, as clinical social workers.

ACA strongly encourages counselors to contact their Senators to ask them to cosponsor the legislation. 

- See more at: http://www.counseling.org/public-policy/public-policy/public-policy-news-view/position-papers/2013/03/19/medicare-coverage-of-licensed-professional-counselors-bill-introduced-in-113th-congress#sthash.JUJXp5cY.dpuf

Army Directive 2011-09 Signed by the Army

The American Counseling Association, the National Board for Certified Counselors, and the American Mental Health Counselors Association are pleased to announce that on July 26, 2011, Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh signed Army Directive 2011-09, Employment of Licensed Professional Counselors as Fully Functioning Army Substance Abuse Program Practitioners.  This directive authorizes “the Army Substance Abuse Program to employ licensed professional counselors and licensed mental health counselors as independent practitioners with a well-defined scope of practice.”
 
The directive also establishes credentialing and privileging standards for licensed counselors who seek employment through the Army Substance Abuse Program (ASAP).  The criteria include:

  • Successful completion of a master’s degree in counseling from a regionally accredited college or university that has its counseling program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs.  (Counselors who are already employed with ASAP or entered the application process for an ASAP counseling position prior to the effective date of the directive do not have to meet the accreditation requirement.)
  • Possession of a state license as a professional counselor or mental health counselor at the highest clinical level offered by their state licensure board
  • Passage of the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination

The directive became effective upon signature by the Secretary of the Army on July 26, 2011. 
 
You may recall that the Department of Defense had been charged by Congress with issuing regulations by June 20, 2011 to let licensed professional counselors practice independently within the TRICARE program.  We have been told that the Army SAP directive is a temporary policy that allows counselors to practice independently until the TRICARE regulations are completed.  The final TRICARE regulations may—or may not—include the same requirements as the Army SAP directive.  ACA, NBCC, and AMHCA continue to urge the Department of Defense to adopt broad TRICARE regulations that recognize all qualified professional counselors. 

Qualifying counselors who are interested in Army SAP positions should act quickly.  The Army is in dire need of more counselors and recently launched a national hiring initiative described here: http://www.dodlive.mil/index.php/2011/08/army-urgent-to-hire-130-substance-abuse-counselors-asap/.
 
 ASAP vacancies are posted here for interested counselors:  http://medcell.army.mil/spotlight.asp?id=15Although this webpage and the job announcements specifically reference social workers and psychologists, we have confirmed with Army SAP leadership that these positions are available to professional counselors. 
 

LCA Hints for Advocacy