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Advocacy Update: May 2021

May 11, 2021

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

APA-Led Activities

2021 Virtual Federal Advocacy Conference

Registration is now open for APA’s 2021 Federal Advocacy Conference and all APA members are invited to participate in this unique opportunity to play a critical role in shaping health care policy during the 117th Congress.

Before holding virtual meetings with federal legislators and staff, attendees will spend Saturday, June 5th, learning everything they need to know to advocate for psychiatry and insights on the inner workings of Congress and the legislative process. On June 10th, attendees will put their training to use in virtual meetings with their members of Congress and their staff and promote APA’s legislative agenda. Learn more & Register ».

Executive Branch Activities

HHS Releases New Buprenorphine Practice Guidelines

In an effort to get evidenced-based treatment to more Americans with opioid use disorder, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released new buprenorphine practice guidelines that among other things, remove a longtime requirement tied to training as well as a prescriber’s need to certify as to their capacity to provide counseling and ancillary services.

Biden Names New Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders

President Biden announced his intent to nominate Miriam Delphin-Tittmon, PhD, as Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use at the Department of Health and Human Services. Dr. Delphin-Tittmon currently serves as Associate Professor Adjunct of Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, to serve as assistant secretary for mental health and substance use with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In this position, she will be responsible for leading the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Dr. Delphin-Rittmon has served as the head of the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services since 2015. Prior to becoming commissioner, she served with the state agency in several capacities, including as deputy commissioner, senior policy advisor, and director of its Office of Multicultural Healthcare Equity. In May 2014, she completed a two-year appointment under President Barack Obama as senior advisor to the administrator of SAMHSA, the same federal office that she has now been appointed to lead. In this role, she worked on a range of policy initiatives addressing behavioral health equity, workforce development, and healthcare reform. A confirmation hearing date has yet to be set.

HHS Proposes Changes to HIPAA

HHS released proposed changes to the HIPAA Privacy Rule with the goal of strengthening individuals’ rights to access their own health information, including electronic information; improving information sharing for care coordination and case management for individuals; facilitating greater family and caregiver involvement in the care of individuals experiencing emergencies or health crises; and enhancing flexibilities for disclosures in emergency or threatening circumstances, such as the Opioid and COVID-19 public health emergency. HHS released a factsheet with proposed changes.

FCC Releases Report Related to 9-8-8 Suicide Prevention Number

On July 17, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) designated 988 as the new, nationwide, 3-digit phone number for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Their rules require all telecommunications carriers, interconnected voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) providers, and one-way VoIP providers (together, “covered providers”) to make any network changes necessary to ensure that users can dial 988 to reach the Lifeline by July 16, 2022. Implementation of the new 988 dialing code by covered providers across the telecommunications industry is well underway. The Report examines the benefits, technical feasibility, and potential costs of transmitting 988 calls with dispatchable location information, i.e., “the street address of the calling party and additional information such as room number, floor number, or similar information necessary to adequately identify the location of the calling party.” The report concludes that transmitting geolocation information, including dispatchable location information, with 988 calls would have significant benefits, and recommends the establishment of a multi-stakeholder advisory committee, with experts tasked with developing detailed recommendations on how to address several challenging matters that must be resolved to make transmitting dispatchable location with 988 calls feasible.

CMS Hosted a Webinar on Health Equity

CMS hosted the webinar “The Road to Equity: Examining Structural Racism in Health Care Virtual Forum,”which highlighted CMS’s renewed focus on health equity, addressed structural racism in health care, and established federal agencies’ roles as equity partners. An APA staff member was in attendance.

The COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force

In February, President Biden and Vice President Harris created a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to help ensure an equitable response to the pandemic. The Taskforce held a public meeting on April 30, 2021. The focus was primarily on the equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, challenges and lessons learned from the pandemic. Mental health and the effect that the pandemic has taken on individuals, as well as healthcare program changes were also discussed.

Congressional Activities

APA Works with Congressional Allies to Ensure Parity Enforcement

Last year, APA successfully advocated for passage of the Strengthening Behavioral Health Parity Act. This game-changing new law gives the federal government additional authority to enforce the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. But the agency in charge of this new effort, the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), needs the necessary resources to implement the law.

In an effort to ensure the new parity enforcement law is implemented successfully, APA worked with Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT) and Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) along with 30 colleagues on a Congressional sign-on letter to House Appropriators requesting additional funding for the EBSA. Additionally, Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI), Courtney and Porter co-led a letter with 10 of their colleagues to the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Labor asking the agencies to request additional funding for parity implementation.

COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act Passes the Senate

On April 22, the U.S. Senate passed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act (S. 937), historic legislation that aims to address the ongoing hate crimes and violence directed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. APA supported this legislation and sent the legislation’s sponsors, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), a letter of support earlier in April. The legislation, which provides greater assistance to the law enforcement response to these crimes and creates a position at the Department of Justice to review such cases, must now be considered by the U.S. House of Representatives.

APA Highlights for Key Congressional Committee

APA submitted testimony for a congressional hearing held by the House Education and Labor’s subcommittee that focuses on health. APA’s testimony encouraged the Committee to address racial disparities within the mental health care system, highlighted mental health workforce shortage and discussed ways to improve insurance coverage of mental health treatment to improve access to mental health care. Other witnesses, who echoed APA’s points, included representatives from the American Psychological Association, the American Foundation for Suicide Preventsion, The ERISA Industry Committee and a mental healht insurance advocacy law firm.

State Activities

APA Takes a Stand Against Efforts to Interfere with Patient Care

This year, several state legislatures have either introduced or are considering legislation that would restrict gender-affirming care to gender-diverse patients. In response, APA worked with five other frontline physician organizations to release a statement expressing opposition to any legislation that would interfere with providing evidence-based patient care. The statement went on to express the organizations’ concern that some of the efforts would criminalize care or penalize physicians for providing necessary care for their patients. APA continues to work with district branches to oppose these efforts.

States Enact New Telehealth Laws

APA and District Branches have been working closely together to permanently increase access to and coverage of telehealth in the states. As of this writing, ten states (Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Montana, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia) have signed versions of positive telehealth legislation into law. Five other states (Colorado, Georgia, Montana, Oklahoma, and Washington) have positive legislation pending signature by their governors. APA will continue to work with District Branches during this and future legislative sessions to secure positive telehealth legislation (such as APA’s model telehealth legislation) into law.

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