By: David C. Wiesner, Ph.D. WSPA Federal Advocacy Coordinator
Hello Fellow WSPA Members:
In mid-March the American Psychological Association held its Practice Leadership Conference (PLC). This annual meeting which dates back to the mid-1980s is designed for psychology leaders from each State to gather to further develop leadership skills, be informed of the latest happenings in practice, and have an opportunity to advocate for Psychology on Capitol Hill. In this article I want to share with you the legislative advocacy activities that took place.
APA’s 2019 Practice Leadership Conference entitled, “Advocacy and Leadership” was a bit different from past meetings, and was described as a meeting in transition. This transition occurred because APA has recently restructured its advocacy efforts, integrating and now legally allowing communications between its advocacy in practice, education, research, and public policy. This year’s “transitional” meeting invited psychology leaders from education, public policy, and research to this traditionally practice conference.
Integrating Psychology Advocacy
Throughout the conference there were presentations and trainings designed to inform members of psychology advocacy efforts and to share strategies and advocacy skills among the participants. New this year was the mingling of psychology advocacy personnel including Katherine McGuire, the new Chief Advocacy Officer for APA and APA Services, Inc. I also had the pleasure of spending some time with Jennifer Kelley, Ph.D. and Antonio Puente, Ph.D. the co-chairs of the APA Committee working to integrate psychology advocacy.
APA is in the process of developing the new structure and processes involved with the integration of advocacy for Psychology. Efforts were made at the conference to get input from psychology leaders and advocates to help shape APA’s future advocacy plans. Other conference activities appeared to work to find common ground in psychology advocacy no matter whether advocacy has been aimed at practice, research, education, or public policy concerns.
Psychology PAC Dinner
There was a reception for the honored guest, Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) followed by an invitation only Psychology PAC Dinner with the senator. Senator Cassidy is a physician who sits on the Senate Finance Committee – the body which has major responsibilities for the oversight of Medicare. Over the past 5 years APA has been working to develop relationships with members of the Senate Finance Committee – both Republicans and Democrats.
Senator Cassidy has been an ardent champion for mental and behavioral health in Congress. Last year he led the fight to preserve Medicare payment for psychological and neuropsychological testing services. He has also been active in advocating for better services for our veterans and people affected by the opioid crisis.
Senator Cassidy briefly spoke to a group of PLC participants at his reception concerning the need for non-medical interventions for people with substance use disorders. He also thanked the many psychologists for their leadership in healthcare in our Veterans’ Administration services.
Thanks to the financial contributions of 10 Washington State psychologists, I was able to attend the Psychology PAC Dinner with Senator Cassidy. This $1000 a plate dinner allowed me to individually talk with the Senator. The room had 4 large round tables. Participants had seats assigned to them and one chair was left vacant for the Senator. I was seated directly across the table from the Senator’s seat (not such a good seat). APAPO’s Government Relations staff and a psychologist from Louisiana were seated directly beside the Senator. Six other psychologist participants completed the compliment at the table where I was seated. Senator Cassidy moved from table to table for each course – soup, salad, entrée, and dessert.
Senator Cassidy was at my table when dessert was being served. He began talking with us about the need for behavioral health services for seniors. Other psychologists at the table discussed the need for psychologists to be included in the physician definition of providers in Medicare. I was the first person to steer the Senator on to the topic of telehealth. Senator Cassidy expressed some concerns that telehealth may increase the likelihood for fraud.
I found Senator Cassidy to be very down to earth, polite, and pragmatic. I believe APAPO’s Black Tie Dinner was successful in: (1) further developing Psychology’s relationship with Senator Cassidy and the Senate Finance Committee in general, (2) further educating Senator Cassidy concerning the importance in behavioral health services in our healthcare system and as a way to improve our citizens’ health, (3) helping identify some of Senator Cassidy’s concerns regarding our bills of interest (possibly increasing fraud), and (4) helping APAPO’s efforts in being a voice that legislator’s seek when planning healthcare legislation.
APA’s Government Relations staff met with each State’s delegations to brief them on two important bills affecting practice as well as an educational concern affecting Argosy psychology students and their clients. This briefing was the preparation for each delegation to spend a day on Capitol Hill advocating for Psychology.
APA prepared us to talk with legislators and/or their staff concerning: (1) the Medicare Mental Health Access Act (H.R. 884), (2) concerns over the closure of Argosy campuses, and (3) the Mental Health Telemedicine Expansion Act (H.R. 1301).
Our own Member of Congress, Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-1st) has introduced a bill to make it easier for older adults to obtain mental health services in their own homes by removing current-law-restrictions on the use of telehealth services. Currently Medicare beneficiaries can only receive psychological services via telehealth means if these are services from a substance use disorder, or if they live in a rural or underserved geographic area. Additionally, the individual would need to travel to a healthcare facility to connect to their provider via telehealth technology. Representative DelBene’s bill eliminates these barriors, allowing all behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment to occur, even at a beneficiary’s home.
As we discovered when we were on Capitol Hill, Congress was already constructing a Congressional Letter to Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos expressing concerns and remedies for the Argosy campus closures. Our mission was to make sure legislators knew of the predicament the Argosy closure created for students and clients seen by these students. Later we found out that four of our Members of Congress signed on to this Congressional Letter – Reps. Jayapal (D-7th), Larsen (D-2nd), Smith (D-9th), and DelBene (D-1st).
The other major bill we were advocating for was the Medicare Mental Health Access Act. This is the bill which has been introduced the past 5 Congresses which simply seeks to place psychologists into the physician category of providers in the Medicare system. Psychologists are the only doctoral-level trained healthcare providers excluded from the physician category of Medicare healthcare provider. The Medicare system groups participating healthcare providers into either the physician category or a technician category. Being categorized as a technician does not negatively affect the provision of psychological services except when services are provided in facilities. Our advocacy emphasized eliminating the unnecessary oversight of psychologists by physicians.
The WSPA delegation visited all Washington State legislators’ offices. We supplied informational materials and had discussions in hopes of getting Washington State legislators to co-sponsor our bills of interest. Besides seeking co-sponsorship, we sought to lay the groundwork to develop friendly relationships with our legislators’ offices and hopefully become a resource for them.
PLC was a good opportunity to further develop our knowledge and training in practice and advocacy. I appreciate member and the WSPA Board’s support in sending a delegation to participate in this valuable conference.