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Advocacy Update: July 2020

July 20, 2020

The last few months have seen significant movement across a broad array of issues.

Getting Involved

How You Can Help International Medical Graduates

APA is working closely with its Congressional ally, Sen. David Purdue (R-GA) to pass S. 3599 Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act, which would allow International Medical Graduates (IMGs) and their families to stay in the US to continue to provide the highest quality of care to their patients. Approximately 30% of active psychiatrists today are IMGs. These psychiatrists play a crucial role in addressing the significant mental health needs our country- particularly in rural and underserved communities. The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act proposes to recapture up to 15,000 unused employment-based visas for international physicians, provide IMGs currently in the US with status assistance and facilitate IMGs coming to the US.

Join APA in advocating for this legislation:

  • Are you an IMG? Our congressional allies are asking for stories from IMGs to personalize the issue. Use this form to learn more and share your experience as an IMG.
  • Want to stand with IMGs? Use APA’s online tool to urge your members of Congress to co-sponsor this important legislation.

Call for applications for the American Psychiatric Association’s 2020 Psychiatric Services Achievement Awards

Since 1949, the Psychiatric Services Achievement Awards have recognized creative models of service delivery and innovative programs for persons with mental illness or disabilities. We are looking for programs that have made a significant contribution to the mental health field and provide an innovative model for others to follow. Each award recipient will be presented with a monetary award, a plaque, recognition at the 2019 Institute on Psychiatric Services, and coverage in two APA publications. Apply by Friday, July 31, 2020 »

The nomination requirements, the full application, and additional information can be found on the APA Awards website. For any specific questions, feel free to reach out to Agathe Farrage at [email protected].

APA-Led Activities

Billing Guide and Patient Pamphlet on Interprofessional Consultation Codes

APA has released a billing guide and patient pamphlet to provide guidance to psychiatrists and their patients on the use of non-face-to-face consultation codes ("curbside consults"). Medicare began reimbursing for these codes in 2020. The “curbside consult” codes are to be used when the patient's treating physician requests an opinion and/or treatment advice from a specialist. These services include evaluation and management recommendations on patient care through the use of a secure platform (i.e., telephone, fax, or electronic health record). More information is available on APA’s Coding and Reimbursement page.

Supporting Clinician Health in the Post-COVID Pandemic Era

A group of medical associations, including APA, released a joint statement on clinician health during this unprecedented modern public health crisis, calling for preserving and protecting the health of the medical workforce. The statement emphasizes that physicians and other clinicians must be able to safely secure treatment for mental or other health issues, supports the removal of barriers that inhibit clinicians and health care staff from accessing mental health services, and states that credentialing agencies should support and expand access to treatment programs without fear of reprisal.

Executive Branch Activities

APA Urges CMS to Maintain Recent Telehealth Flexibilities

APA sent a CMS Administrator Seema Verma a letter applauding the Administration’s rapid action on telehealth flexibility in response to the ongoing public health emergency. In an effort to maintain reduced barriers to care, APA advocates CMS maintain a number of the recently implemented telehealth flexibilities permanently. The letter highlights the likelihood of increased demand for mental and behavioral health care services as the country begins reopening and that allowing for some of these flexibilities to remain enacted would ensure a smooth transition to in-person care and, as well as increased access to care. APA specifies the importance of several specific regulatory changes, including: removing limitations around originating sites and geographical restrictions, including all services on the Medicare approved telehealth list, and maintaining coverage and increased payment for the telephone evaluation and management services.

Congressional Activities

APA Supports Congressional Efforts to Expand Telemedicine Services

APA led nearly 50 mental health advocacy groups in sending a letter thanking our congressional champions in drafting legislation that would require ERISA group health plans to cover services provided through telemedicine at parity with services provided in a face-to-face encounter. Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) introduced the Health Care At Home Act (S. 3741) and U.S. Representatives Kim Schrier, MD (D-WA) and Phil Roe, MD (R-TN) introduced similar legislation, H.R. 6644, in the House of Representatives.

APA also provided technical assistance and support to Senators Tina Smith and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) when they drafted the Tele-Mental Health Improvement Act of 2020 (S. 3792), which would require group health plans and health insurers to cover mental health and substance use disorder telehealth services during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Want to help APA in expanding telemedicine services? APA hosted a telemedicine webinar on July 8th from 7 – 8:30 PM to provide psychiatrists with a thorough understanding about our regulatory and legislative efforts to expand telemedicine services.

APA’s Advocates Support Congressional Effort to Address COVID-Related Health Disparities

In less than 24 hours, over 150 psychiatrists mobilized to support a bipartisan letter that encouraged Congressional leadership to address COVID-related health disparities during negotiations for the next stimulus package. Over 80 U.S. Representatives joined Reps. Tony Cardenas (D-CA), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Patrick Kennedy (D-MA), John Katko (R-NY) and Brian Fizpatrick (R-PA) in sending the letter that called for:

  • $38.5 billion for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to increase mental health support and substance abuse treatment during COVID-19.
  • Directing $75 billion for coronavirus virus testing and tracing to the hardest hit communities;
  • $7.6 billion in emergency funding for community health centers so that they can better provided testing, triage and care for COVID-19 and other health care services in vulnerable communities;
  • $2.1 billion for the Indian Health Services to address COVID-19 health needs

APA is grateful to the members who responded to the action alert and whose collective action resulted in nearly 200 letters and reached over 110 lawmakers.

Congress Announces Funding Timeline for Fiscal Year 2021

Congress is embarking on a compressed timeline to consider appropriations for FY2021. While the Senate’s timeline is still unclear, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to pass a package of appropriations bills for U.S. fiscal year 2021. This package, commonly referred to as a “minibus,” would provide the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) $96.4 billion to sustain much needed funding for mental health programs and medical research.

A major unknown this year will be the impact that the COVID-related supplemental funding will have on regular appropriations. However, APA and its coalition partners will continue to advocate for funding for mental health and substance use disorder programs that expand access, treatment, and services. A few of our priority funding included in the spending measure:

  • $35 million for Crisis Services within the SAMHSA Mental Health Services Block Grant
  • $17 million for a student loan repayment program for substance use disorder professionals
  • $7.8 million for SAMHSA Practice and Improvement Training
  • $16.2 million for SAMHSA’s Minority Fellowship Program
  • $50 million to conduct research on firearm injuries and mortality prevention

APA-Supported Suicide Prevention Bill Becomes Law

Bipartisan legislation that addresses police suicide and aims to improve mental health services for police was signed into law by President Donald Trump on June 16th. U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) spearheaded this legislation which establishes a data collection program in the FBI to track law enforcement suicides and use the anonymous data to improve mental health interventions within law enforcement.

APAPAC-Supported Candidate Ousts Steve King from Congress

2020 promises to be an historic election and APAPAC is already backing successful candidates. On June 2nd APAPAC-supported state Sen. Randy Feenstra ousted Rep. Steve King (R-IA) in the Iowa primaries. This traditionally Republican district, which voted for Trump by a 30-point margin in 2016, has been represented by King since 2013 despite his numerous racist remarks and a strong Democratic challenge in 2018. Feenstra is currently studying for a doctorate degree in hospital administration and has experience implementing a telehealth program in his local hospital to increase access to care for mental health and substance use disorder patients. Feenstra will now run against democratic candidate J.D. Scholten in November. When considering whether to support Feenstra’s candidacy, the APAPAC Board considered Feenstra’s history of support in the Iowa legislature, feedback from the district branch, the demographics of the district as well as the strength of other candidates. Join or learn more about APAPAC »

State Activities

APA Developing Model Telemedicine Legislation for States

The federal government and all 50 states and the District of Columbia have taken action to further insurance coverage of telemedicine during the public health emergency. With states reopening, there have been concerns that some of these positive changes, including payment parity with in-person visits, might be revoked. APA is advocating for important changes to be retained and is developing state model legislation for telemedicine coverage. If your state is interested in pursuing state legislation to permanently improve access to care through telemedicine, please contact [email protected].







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