NASW Health Care Reform Roundup – October 13, 2009

In an effort to keep you informed of the work NASW is doing on health care reform, we will periodically send out a roundup of activities. For ongoing information, please visit our health care reform page.

Congress Advances Health Care Reform

Congress made major progress last week on health reform legislation. House leaders continued to negotiate merging three somewhat different committee versions of their bill into H.R. 3200. The final House language for H.R. 3200 could be released this week and Democratic leaders plan to begin floor votes within three days of release.  The design of a public insurance option remains a sticking point in the bill, along with payment rates for providers that participate in the public plan. NASW has supported this House effort, including the public option.

In the Senate, the Finance Committee has largely completed their version of reform legislation and received a favorable cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, which has boosted its political prospects. NASW has important reservations with the Senate Finance Committee bill, including the number of people excluded from coverage after full implementation, the omission of direct billing privileges for clinical social workers serving nursing home residents covered by Medicare, the failure to boost payment rates for psychotherapy services under Medicare, and the omission of a strong public option. NASW will await receipt of final Senate language before taking a position on floor consideration, which could begin next week. Senate floor consideration will continue for perhaps several weeks, and a number of amendments and key votes are expected during the debate. For more details on NASW activities, visit our webpage here.

African-American and Latino Organizations Join Forces to Push for Health Care Reform

On October 5, the country’s largest African-American and Latino organizations announced they are joining forces with other major national civil rights and grassroots organizations to mobilize the nation’s 100 million people of color for a final push in support of universal health care reform.  NASW attended this press conference, works with these groups, and is a member of the Leadership Council on Civil Rights. The organizations included the NAACP National Voter Fund, the National Council of La Raza, the Leadership Council on Civil Rights, the Campaign for Community Change, and the United States Student Association and PowerPAC.org.

The groups released television and print ads in English and Spanish that will run in four states with sizable African-American and Latino populations, part of a grassroots effort to ensure that members of Congress appreciate the importance of reform to the people of color they represent.  Those four states are Florida, North Carolina, Louisiana and Arkansas.

The ads can be viewed at www.healthequityforall.org.

Administration Announces Parity Regulation Delay

The new federal mental health and addiction services parity law, P.L. 110-343, passed in October 2008, requires that regulations be issued by Oct. 3, 2009; however, HHS Secretary Sebelius announced on October 2 the new rules will arrive late. Said Sebelius in her letter to Capitol Hill offices, “We (Dept. of Labor/DHHS) are committed to ensuring access to these critical services, and it is our goal to issue regulations by January 2010 that will address the key issues…”  According to Sebelius, the Department received over 400 public comments in response to a regulatory notice published this spring. NASW submitted comments at that time.

The effective date of the new law is for health plans with renewal dates beginning on or after January 1, 2010. Employer groups of fewer than 50 employees are exempt from the new requirements, but all other private insurance plans, including those covered by ERISA, are subject to the new federal requirements. According to the law, health insurance plans that offer any level of mental health or substance abuse treatment benefits must offer them at parity level with other health care benefits available under the plan. With the delay in the new regulations, health plan administrators will lack guidance on technical issues in the law, although they will still be required to follow the law or risk administrative and legal action by employees or state regulators for non-compliance. For more information about the law, see NASW’s Legal Issue of the Month for January 2009

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