2018 Legislative Session Wrap-Up & Other News

Spring 2018: Volume 74, Number 1
By Lucy A. Homans, Ed.D.
Director of Professional Affairs

I am writing this article during the first week of April – not on April Fool’s Day – otherwise who would believe me when I tell you that this was a good legislative session for support of mental health services and WSPA priorities? One of the mental health lobbyists reports that of 6,561 final floor votes, over 86% were “yes” votes. I mention this because you all should learn two things from this statement. The first is that 6,561 bills are A LOT of bills to read. Not all bills are read by all legislators. This is why we have committees. Legislators know the bills that appear before their committees and rely on colleagues on other committees – and on their (Republican or Democratic) caucuses to inform them of other bills. The second is that it is typically a lot easier to say no to bills than to say yes. Kudos to the Legislature for the effort to be bipartisan this year. I mean that – no sarcasm intended!

Bills that WSPA supported fared quite well. First and foremost, Governor Inslee signed SB 5722 restricting the practice of conversion therapy on Wednesday, April 28, 2018. In attendance were Dr. Sonia Venkatraman, WSPA President, Dr. Matt Goldenberg, WSPA member who testified in support of the bill numerous times, and to my personal delight, Dr. Doug Haldeman, formerly of WSPA and now from California who was instrumental in sponsoring the initial bill back in 2013. Dr. Haldeman also was instrumental in passage of the first bill of this kind in California in (I think) 2008. Please click on this link to go to the  WSPA website to view video testimony of the signing ceremony. And, please allow me a personal shout out to Carey Morris, the lobbyist for Equal Rights Washington who has shepherded this bill along the legislative road for five long years. Working with her is pure pleasure.

Gov. Inslee signs Senate Bill No. 5722, March 27, 2018. Relating to restricting the practice of conversion therapy.
Primary Sponsor: Marko Liias

WSPA also supported SB 6399, which will provide for parity for payment of telemedicine services. Step one of this effort will be identification of a telemedicine collaborative. The collaborative has until December 1 of this year to evaluate the effectiveness of telemedicine services in 5 health categories, one of which is mental health services, design a telemedicine training program, and to report to the Legislature on its results.

2SHB 2671 establishes a task force to review data related to behavioral health of agricultural workers., including factors (such as isolation & loneliness) that increase risk of suicide and options to improve the mental health of agricultural workers.

Other bills relating to the work we do that passed the Legislature this year are (in no particular order): SSB 6491, which reduces eligibility requirements for participation in outpatient for substance use disorder treatment in Medicaid; several bills supporting suicide prevention efforts; and several bills addressing the opioid crisis which increase funding in the state operating funding. You can always go to the Washington State Legislature website, www.leg.wa.gov and either type in a bill number or a key word (ex: suicide) to look for bills. I also include here another shout out to our own lobbyist, Leslie Emerick, who diligently looks for and signs us in to support any bills that might affect our profession and our patients. I probably owe her a new pair of shoes by now.

A personal word here about why I might owe Leslie new shoes: lobbyists are known as “the Third House.” They do have a message center on the Capitol campus but they do not have offices. They spend most of a workday on their feet doing business in legislative offices, in hallways and in the cafeteria. The vast majority of lobbyists with whom I’ve worked are thoughtful, knowledgeable folks. Ask Dr. Matt Goldenberg or any of the WSPA members who have agreed to testify before a committee about one of our bills and they will tell you that because of lobbyists, they feel nervous but prepared and ready to speak in less than 3 minutes on complex mental health issues. Not kidding.

This leads me to an idea that came up in a conversation with other attendees at the annual APA Practice Leadership conference (PLC) this past March. Are any of you WSPA members interested in spending a day in Olympia, learning about how bills are written, introduced, and passed and other state functions that affect the practice of psychology? I am happy to lead a (not too large) group down to the state Capitol for a day. If yes, please email me DIRECTLY at lucy.homans@gmail.com. I’ll work with our business office to set this up if there is sufficient interest.

With regard to more DPA related matters, WSPA members continue to receive notices from insurance companies to comply with federally mandated “quality” audits. These are data collection audits required annually of all insurers by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). These are NOT fraud & abuse audits and they do not result in insurers demanding back reimbursements. Here’s what happens: a company that you have probably never heard of (Advantmed or Episource, for example) will contact you and ask for treatment records for one (possibly more) of your current or former clients. The information you provide will not be identifiable – the federal Health & Human Services Department (HHS) collects data to document that the ACA provides quality care at a reasonable cost. You do not have to notify your clients that records are submitted, since they have already authorized release when they use their insurance coverage. However, for some clients you may want to do so. If a client is particularly sensitive about record release, you may ask the company if you can substitute another client covered by the same company. Thus far, all such requests have been approved. Contact me at lucy.homans@gmail.com if you have any questions or concerns – or if you think an audit demand is not for a quality audit.

If any WSPA members are having difficulty working with Labor & Industries (L&I), please let me know (same email). WSPA will be trying to set up a meeting with L&I senior staff to address several psychologist concerns.

Finally (saving the worst for last), yet again, I have to thank ultra diligent WSPA member Dr. John Rarick and equally diligent Dr. Dana Myers who treat Tricare families. It doesn’t seem to matter which managed care contractor manages the Tricare program (in 2017 it was Optum; in 2018 it is Health Net), the result is barriers to care and an administrative nightmare, not to mention appallingly low reimbursement rates. This is just shameful. When our little band of PLC delegates went to Capitol Hill in March to discuss our federal legislative agenda, fixing Tricare was at the top of our list. Because psychologists like John and Dana and Ana Maria and colleagues around the country are fed up, the APA Practice Organization has now hired a psychologist on staff whose sole job it is to address the Tricare nightmare. This is a bipartisan issue. I would be beyond delighted if there is a Congressional inquiry into the program that is supposed to serve our military families.

In case I have not pointed it out enough in this article, if you have questions, complaints or concerns, email me at lucy.homans@gmail.com.

Thank you

Lucy Homans, Ed.D.
Director of Professional Affairs