Use Congressional Recess to Advance Medicare Recognition
The House and Senate have struggled for almost three years to advance mental health legislation that responds to the epidemic of mass gun violence and its political linkage to inadequate mental health services. The House finally passed its bill on July 6, in greatly watered down form before recessing until after Labor Day. Movement on the Senate version has been even slower, bogged down largely over disagreements on federal gun laws. The House bill that passed, “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act,” (HR. 2646), was ultimately able to attract overwhelming support (422-2) on the House floor. The years-long negotiation process produced a final bill that is much more modest than the original bill, but many mental health advocates view it as a valuable step toward delivery system reform.
The revised House bill, HR. 2646, creates a new position of Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders and establishes the National Mental Health Policy Laboratory and the Interagency Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee. Over the concerns of many Democrats, the bill authorizes no additional federal spending, but does expand the number and type of mental health services that states may cover under Medicaid; prohibits Medicare and Medicaid from restricting access to drugs used to treat mental health disorders; and expands the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics demonstration program. Although the Senate and House bills are now more similar, Senate consideration remains mired by ongoing disputes on gun issues and Senate supporters were concerned it could fail to pass before Congress recesses in early October for the elections.
AMHCA Medicare Advocacy Strategy: AMHCA has long viewed the Senate and House mental health reform bills as good targets to add on our Medicare provider status legislation (S. 1830/HR. 2759). Our Medicare coalition has held many meetings with congressional offices to urge inclusion of our Medicare provider status language (S. 1830/HR. 2759) in the mental health reform package, but it was ultimately excluded from the House bill due to its budget impact. Since the target House bill required no new spending in order to pass the floor, AMHCA’s amendment, which carries a substantial new spending estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, was ultimately excluded from the House target vehicle. In the Senate, AMHCA is continuing to work with our coalition partners to add it to this version. Our coalition has also brought to the Senate sponsors some SAMHSA/HRSA/PHS amendments that would address CMHC recognition in federal workforce data collection programs. AMHCA anticipates that discussion of the mental health reform legislation will continue throughout the remainder of 2016, providing an avenue for consideration of our Medicare provision.
Action Requested: AMHCA hears regularly from congressional offices that constituents (i.e., mental health counselors) haven’t spoken up in support of our Medicare bill. Therefore, AMHCA continues to encourage more grassroots messages from our members to congressional offices. We strongly encourage our members to request their Senators and Representatives to cosponsor our Medicare provider status bill (S. 1830/HR. 2759). See AMCHA Connections for assistance sending email messages to Representatives and Senators.