DPA - Delaware Psychological Association

Federal Advocacy Information Alert!

February 24, 2017 3:02 PM | Kelly Wetzel (Administrator)

2016 Summary of APAPO GR Activities, and a look ahead to 2017

We have accomplished a lot this year and have significant challenges ahead. Here are some of the highlights from 2016, and our road map for 2017.

Mental Health Reform

After two years of grassroots efforts and State Leadership Conference (SLC) visits, the Senate voted 94-5, on December 7th, to pass federal mental health reform, as a part of the 21st Century Cures legislation.  This follows up on a 392-26 vote by the U.S. House of Representatives on November 30th.  President Obama signed the bill into law on December 13th.  Because of your efforts psychologists from around the country sent over 8,000 messages to Congress, urging their legislators to pass mental health reform.

This new law strengthens enforcement of federal mental health parity law, eliminates the Medicaid same day exclusion rule (which prohibits separate payment for mental health and primary care services provided to a Medicaid enrollee on the same day), creates a new Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use, who could be a psychologist, improves how the criminal justice system responds to mental health issues, and clarifies records’ privacy protections.  Further, the law creates or reauthorizes a wide range of federal mental health and substance use treatment and prevention grant programs, such as the Minority Fellowship Program, which boosts the number of providers in underserved areas, the National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative, and the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act to combat youth suicide. 

Medicare Mental Health Access Act (H.R. 4277 / S. 2597)

We continue to make slow but significant progress towards passage of the Medicare Mental Health Access Act, bipartisan legislation that would allow psychologists to provide Medicare services without unnecessary physician supervision.  This bill is sponsored by Representatives Kristie Noem (R-SD) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Susan Collins (R-ME).

Your visits to your members of Congress during SLC and grassroots action have helped us gain 41 cosponsors on the House legislation, including eight Republican cosponsors, four of which are on the committee of jurisdiction, the Ways and Means Committee.  During the 2016 State Leadership Conference’s “Hill Day” over 400 psychologists made 332 Congressional office visits.  Thanks to your work we are well-positioned to reintroduce these bills at the start of the 115th Congress.

Medicare’s Merit-Based Incentive Payment System

In October the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released the final rule under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA). MACRA is a major overhaul of the Medicare payment system, moving the program from fee for service to rewarding value rather than volume.  The Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) ends December 31st with many of the PQRS measures becoming part of the new Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS).  Psychologists will not be subjected to MIPS until 2019 and so will not be required to report quality measures in 2017 or 2018.

While psychologists are not required to report in 2017, they will have the opportunity to practice MIPS reporting in preparation for 2019. APAPO’s registry, APAPO PQRSPRO, is still available to collect, review, and submit MIPS data.  Any psychologist or other behavioral health provider interested in practicing MIPS reporting before 2019 is welcome to use the APAPO registry at the current annual cost of $199.  We recommend psychologists continue to report and become familiar with MIPS to position themselves for potential bonuses and avoid penalties in 2019.

Over the past year Government relations advocated for CMS to reduce the burden of MIPS reporting and the agency has responded.  Originally CMS proposed a “low volume threshold”, which exempting providers who treat 100 or fewer Medicare beneficiaries and having equal or less than $10,000 from MIPS reporting.  Medicare has increased the low volume threshold for providers in 2017, if they treat 100 or fewer Medicare beneficiaries or they have $30,000 or less in Medicare charges.  The low volume threshold applies only to MIPS reporting in 2017, and it may change by the time psychologists are included in MIPS in 2019, nevertheless this change will give many psychologists in Medicare the option to participate in MIPS or not.

2017 Physician Fee Schedule

Significant challenges to psychologists pay in Medicare remain but payment at least remains stable, if low, with a slight decrease in payment of approximately 1.5%.  This appears to be the standard reduction for most providers in the program.  In addition, psychologists who did not successfully report measures under PQRS in 2015 will lose an additional 2% on all of their Medicare charges.

CMS has added several new codes for 2017 to capture services under the Psychiatric Collaborative Care Model (CoCM) in which a primary care provider and a care manager work in collaboration with a psychiatric consultant, such as a psychiatrist. Psychologists cannot bill the collaborative care codes (G0502, -03, and -04) because the services involve evaluation and management (E/M), but they can provide behavioral care management services. The behavioral care manager does not have to be an employee of the primary care provider and may furnish services remotely.  CMS is also adding a code, G0507, for other Behavioral Health Integration (BHI) models of care. Direct billing of this code is limited to physicians and other health care professionals who can provide the BHI initiating visit, which CMS maintains is not within a psychologist’s scope of practice.

Looking ahead to 2017

2017 looks to be the busiest year for APAPO government relations in a decade, and we will need your help to address enormous challenges and to take advantage of opportunities for practicing psychologists as Congress and the in-coming administration move forward.  Private market insurance, and major Medicare and Medicaid reform appear imminent, again with challenges and opportunities.

President-elect Donald Trump has made clear that his first priority is to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Republicans who control Congress will likely succeed in repealing fundamental components of the Act, and have already signaled that they will do so before Mr. Trump’s first State of the Union address in late January.  The Senate will use a parliamentary procedure--known as “reconciliation,” which requires only a simple majority vote in both the House and Senate--to sunset major provisions of the law within a set time period, perhaps two years.  After the reconciliation vote repealing the ACA, Congress will then turn to developing and passing a replacement law.  Passage of a replacement bill will require 60 votes in the Senate, which would be possible only with bipartisan support.

Without question, the ACA could be improved to make its provisions more affordable to consumers, but the law has extended coverage to 22 million uninsured in the small group and individual markets, it has mandated mental, behavioral and substance use coverage for millions of consumers and at parity with physical health coverage.  The law expanded Medicaid mental health coverage and incentivized state Medicaid expansion.  The law provided for several provider and patient insurance market protections, including provider nondiscrimination, network adequacy, guaranteed issue, coverage acceptance and renewal, and premium rating requirements.

Together, we worked hard for the ACA’s passage.  We will be calling on you right after the New Year to help us preserve those aspects of the ACA that promoted and advanced your services and for those needing your services.  We will ask Congress not to repeal the law without simultaneously replacing it with a law that ensures coverage that provides access to comprehensive mental, behavioral and substance use services for those the law was meant to help, such as the small business owner and those who must insure themselves.

Beyond but related to the ACA, here are some other issues we will be working on:

  • ·      The newly enacted mental health reform law, known as the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Reform Act, is a major overhaul of federal mental health funding.  We will be working on ensuring that the law is appropriately implemented.
  • ·      We will be right back promoting psychologists in the Medicare program with early reintroduction of the MMHA, but Medicare is undergoing a sea change with MACRA implementation.  With even greater potential impact, Republican leadership is interested in privatizing the entire program.  Medicare will remain at the top of our agenda.
  • ·      As mentioned, the ACA greatly expanded Medicaid mental health coverage by requiring that mental health be included as basic services in benchmark equivalent plans provided by states to beneficiaries, and that coverage must comply with the parity law.  Medicaid accounts for almost 25% of all U.S. mental health spending.  Republicans are considering reforming Medicaid by giving states block grants to operate their programs.  These grants could limit coverage, particularly in states with poorer populations and fewer resources.
  • ·      We will keep working toward better federal and state enforcement of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act.  Nearly a decade after its passage, the law has yet to fully fulfill its promise of ending mental health benefits coverage discrimination.  The Helping Families Act will improve enforcement, but much is yet to be done, and ACA repeal would end the law’s application to the small and individual group markets.

On behalf of Dr. Nordal and your APAPO government relations staff here in Washington, DC, we wish you happy and safe holidays, and we thank you for your dedication and hard work throughout the year.  

For more information, contact APA Practice Organization Government Relations Office at Pracgovt@apa.org or (202) 336-5889.  Visit APA Practice Organization on-line at APAPracticeCentral.org/Advocacy.

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