News from the Hill – August 2010, Second Edition

Political Action for Candidate Election

In our last message, we alerted you to the first round of endorsements issued by the PACE Board of Trustees (members only).  In late August we issued more, and then round out the endorsements in late September (after all primaries have been completed).

On one hand, endorsements indicate support from PACE as well as the social workers who comprise the PACE Board of Trustees.  But in a larger sense, our support for a candidate or incumbent is meant to encourage social workers to get involved in the political process.  The reason we endorse is not simply a matter of insider politics here in Washington; it’s because we believe that the candidate or member of Congress represents the best ideals of social workers.

We e-mail NASW members with information on endorsed candidates in addition to providing the information on our website.  We hope that if you receive such a message from us, you’ll strongly consider volunteering for the candidate or incumbent in question.  Active engagement in the political process is crucial in every election, but especially in the hotly contested Congressional races we see across the country this year.

So if you’re a member of NASW, we thank you for any time and energy you’re willing to commit toward an endorsed campaign.  You can also help PACE continue its work by contributing here.  If you’re not a member, please consider that PACE can only affect political races to the extent of our members’ involvement in those races.  The more people we have on board, the greater our impact, and the greater the benefit for social workers and their clients.  That’s just one of the many benefits of NASW membership.

Senator Dodd Plans a National Children’s Commission

At a hearing a few weeks ago before the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families, Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) expressed his intention to introduce legislation with the aim of establishing a commission on children.  The Senator is calling for the establishment of a national body to assess children’s wellbeing, make policy recommendations on the needs of children, and look at the issues facing them as a cohesive group of policy concerns.  Legislation is still being developed and has not yet been introduced.  Dodd has been the long-time chair of the subcommittee and has long championed services for vulnerable children and their families.  He has announced plans to retire from the Senate at the end of this year. He and his subcommittee heard from Alma Powell, the chairwoman of the America’s Promise Alliance and other hearing panelists expressed the need to improve high school graduation rates, reduce childhood obesity and poverty, provide high-quality, affordable preschool and after-care options for working parents, and access to health care for children. NASW agrees with the concerns expressed by the panelists and continues to advocate on behalf of our nation’s most vulnerable children and families. For more information about our advocacy efforts, go here.

Social Workers Mobilize on Medicare Rates

NASW has launched an advocacy campaign seeking reconsideration of proposed Medicare payment reductions for mental health services delivered by clinical social workers and psychologists. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a proposed rule in July for the 2011 Medicare Part B “physician fee schedule” that would significantly reduce Medicare payments to clinical social workers and psychologists that bill Medicare Part B services. The highly complex rule addresses changes in the physician fee schedule and other Medicare Part B payment policies to ensure that rates are updated to reflect changes in medical practice and the relative value of services.

Last week NASW mobilized social workers from across the nation to urge CMS to reconsider the proposed rule and obtained support from a group of congressional representatives. On August 24th, Members of the House sent this letter to CMS urging their reconsideration of the rule on social workers’ behalf. Social workers and the American Psychological Association working together secured three champions on the issue in the U.S. House, Reps. Paul D. Tonko (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Lois Capps (D-CA). The three spearheaded the letter from 22 House members to Donald Berwick, M.D., the CMS Administrator, urging the agency to consider the harm the proposed rule will have on Medicare mental health services. NASW hopes the letter from Congress and comments from social workers will persuade CMS to reconsider the rule before it is finalized later this year. Details on the proposed rate reduction are available in this recent NASW Alert.

Two weeks ago NASW and the Clinical Social Work Association sent this strong comment letter to CMS objecting to the rule and asking social workers to deliver similar comments to reinforce our message. NASW advocates were directed how to make formal comments in the federal rule making process. Mobilizing broad social work participation is an important strategy because CMS must pay attention to comments it receives in high volume. The formal comment process closed on August 24, 2010, and NASW is now awaiting issuance of a final rule from CMS before taking further action.

Health Practitioners Consider Electronic Health Records

Clinical social workers and other health practitioners are discussing electronic health records (EHR) and how the technology will be integrated into their practice settings. To help answer some of these questions, CMS has launched a new website as the definitive federal source for information about the new Medicare & Medicaid EHR incentive program. The site contains up-to-date resources to help practitioners make better informed decisions about EHR acquisition and use.

Unfortunately, clinical social workers, psychologists and other behavioral health professionals, except physicians, have been excluded from the new payment incentives. Therefore, NASW and other behavioral health groups are supporting legislation that would extend the new Medicare and Medicaid “incentive payments established under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to clinical social workers and other mental health and substance abuse providers and facilities. Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate (H.R. 5040/S. 3709) that would extend Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments for the adoption and meaningful use of health information technology to the currently ineligible behavioral health providers and facilities. For more information about the legislation, see this NASW’s alert.

Health Care Reform Implementation

The Kaiser Family Foundation Timeline for Implementation of Health Care Reform can be found here. This is a helpful resource for social workers wanting to know what is happening with implementation of health care reform.

Elena Kagan Confirmed as Supreme Court Justice

The week of June 28, 2010 the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings to consider the nomination of Elena Kagan as a United States Supreme Court Justice.  Solicitor General Kagan demonstrated her outstanding intellectual credentials, her independence of thought, and her steadfast respect for the rule of law, all attributes that established her as qualified and ready to serve on this nation’s highest court.

Elena Kagan, former Solicitor General of the United States, is now the 112th Justice of the Supreme Court.  For the first time in history, the Supreme Court will have three female members.  On August 5, 2010 Kagan won confirmation by a vote of 63 to 37.  NASW, in concert with its social justice partners and other advocates, called numerous Senators the week of August 2, 2010 urging them to confirm Elena Kagan to the United States Supreme Court.  We believe our diligent advocacy played an integral role in this historic moment.  The Association looks forward to an ideologically balanced court as we strongly seek equity and justice for all Americans.

NASW Urges HHS and CMS to Add Advance Care Planning as a Medicare Benefit

NASW recently sent a letter to Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Dr. Donald Berwick, Administrator, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) urging them to add voluntary advance care planning as a service offered under the new Medicare annual wellness benefit.  The Affordable Care Act granted HHS the authority to add the advance care planning as a benefit.  However, the proposed rule for the annual wellness visit, published by CMS on June 25, failed to include advance care planning.

The NASW letter states, “advance care planning enables individuals to consider and communicate their health care wishes which may be expressed in a living will, appointment of a health care agent, Do-Not- Resuscitate (DNR) orders, and (in some states) Physicians Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST)—in the event they are unable to do so for themselves because of serious illness or injury.”  Further, “advance care planning preserves and maximizes beneficiaries’ right to self determination, which constitutes a core principle of both social work practice and patient centered care. Incorporating advance care planning in annual wellness visits will promote coordination of care and may reduce unnecessary and unwanted health care costs.”

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Honoring Health Centers and Social Workers

Straight Talk for Seniors on Health Reform Campaign Begins

Alert and Update Roundup

Urge Representatives to Support Medicare Clinical Social Worker Payments

Support Endangered Medicare Rates for CSWs

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