NASW Health Care Roundup – November 4, 2009

NASW Calls for Increased Mental Health Funding

The National Association of Social Workers has joined with the Mental Health Liaison Group (MHLG), a coalition of national organizations representing the diverse mental health advocacy community, in calling for higher federal funding levels for mental health services, supports and research.  The coalition argues that higher federal funding levels are essential to meet the extraordinary mental health needs of communities throughout the nation, which are especially strained by the extraordinary economic crisis. NASW and MHLG called on the Congress to go above the Administration’s proposed increases for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which includes funding for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

In a coalition letter signed by NASW, the group called for funding increases in overlooked federal mental health programs, including increases for the mental health block grant and consumer-centered programs, among others, whose funding levels have remained stagnant for nearly a decade.  NASW and the coalition are pursuing a comprehensive funding approach, advocating for a broad array of services and supports to address the needs of all communities with many residents who have been affected by the crisis, and because of the likelihood that every state will be forced to reduce services.

Congress Negotiates Health Reform Details

Democratic leaders continue to convene in high level meetings to work out the details of comprehensive health reform bills headed soon to the House and Senate floor. With critical decisions being worked out behind closed doors, advocacy organizations are scrambling to learn how their top priority concerns are faring in the ongoing negotiations. NASW continues to press for a variety of priorities including expanding coverage of the uninsured and ensuring that health disparities are addressed. NASW members interested in learning the details of the various bills may access two new resources to compare the various bills on a wide range of variables.  Follow this link to a new Kaiser Family Foundation’s side by side document comparing the major health care reform bills and also this one of a new Commonwealth Fund analysis of the major health care reform bills.

Social Work Medicare Equity Act Language Included in House Bill

Section 1307 of the House Bill (H.R. 3200) includes language that removes clinical social work services from the Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) per diem rate and alternatively authorizes independent practitioners to bill for them independently. With this provision, licensed clinical social workers that participate in Medicare will be able to bill Medicare directly. This is a long-sought change by NASW and a critical parity provision for clinical social workers that will expand the availability of services to certain Medicare SNF residents.

Political Climate

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has sent a health care reform bill containing a “state opt out” to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for scoring, or a determination of how much the bill would cost.  The “opt out” would permit individual states to remove themselves from the federal insurance program if they wish.  Sending the bill to the CBO is a strong indication that Reid believes he can pass a “state opt out” bill through the Senate with at least 60 votes (and exactly 60 votes, in all likelihood).  Speaker Pelosi has expressed a strong preference for a bill containing some kind of public option, but has indicated that a “state opt out” would accomplish many of the same goals and does not believe it would hinder the progress of a final bill.  If Sen. Reid can secure 60 votes for this bill, the process of reconciliation with the House bill would then commence, before a final version is sent to the White House.

Best Practices and Lessons Learned: Shaping National Health Care Reform

Kyrsten Sinema, MSW, JD is a social worker, NASW member and a member of the Arizona legislature, serving as Arizona’s Assistant House Democratic Leader. She led a Lunch Time Series teleconference to discuss federal health care reform. Sinema is one of 32 state legislators nationwide — the only state lawmaker from Arizona — selected for President Obama’s White House Health Reform Task Force. She provided an overview of the various health reform proposals being considered.

Benjamin Confirmed as U.S. Surgeon General

On October 29, the full senate unanimously approved Regina Benjamin, MD as U.S. Surgeon General.  The Surgeon General of the United States is the operational head of the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (PHSCC) and thus the leading spokesperson on matters of public health in the federal government.

First announced as the U.S. Surgeon General nominee on July 13, 2009, Dr. Regina Benjamin was the founder and chief executive officer of the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic in La Batre, LA, the immediate past chair of the Federation of State Medical Boards of the United States and previously served as associate dean for rural health at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine. In 2002, as the president of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama, she became the first black woman to be president of a U.S. state medical society.

NASW supported Dr. Benjamin’s confirmation.

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