News from the Hill – March 2011, First Edition

Social Work Reinvestment Act Reintroduced in 112th Congress

The Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act (HR 1106/S. 584) was reintroduced on World Social Work Day, March 15, 2011.  This legislation was first introduced in the 110th Congress, and was important then. It is now even more timely and critical. We are asking for your support once again.

Due to societal challenges including the economic recession and the aging baby boom, the social safety net is fraying. Social workers now care for a more diverse group of individuals, families, and communities than ever before. They depend on the services and resources provided by social workers to maintain employment, shelter, food, and other life-sustaining services.

At the same time that the need for social work services is increasing, our profession is struggling to recruit and retain enough professionals. Due to workforce challenges such as low salaries, high educational debt, and serious safety concerns, students are choosing different career paths and experienced professionals are leaving the field. This situation is untenable if we expect to keep pace with rising needs in areas as diverse as child welfare, poverty alleviation, education, health, mental health, aging, addictions, natural disasters, and violence.

The Social Work Reinvestment Act will support professional social workers by creating a Social Work Reinvestment Commission to analyze these workforce challenges and provide a comprehensive analysis on how they may impact the future of social service delivery in the U.S. Additionally, the bill will fund demonstration programs to address “on-the-ground” realities in the areas of workplace improvements, education and training, research, and community based programs of excellence. Although the nation is understandably facing a moment when fiscal responsibility is essential, this legislation will save money in the long-run as a struggling social work profession will have far-reaching and long-term negative consequences for our country.

Contact your Representative and Senator today in support of the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act (HR 1106/S. 584). Over 100,000 social workers have contacted their Members of Congress since 2007 and we appreciate your work so far. We need you to build on that momentum.

Please click here to contact your Representative.
Please click here to contact your Senator.
For more information, visit www.socialworkreinvestment.org

NASW supports Medicare Coverage Improvements for CSW Services

On March 14, NASW endorsed the Medicare Mental Health Modernization Act that will make critical improvements in mental health coverage for Medicare beneficiaries, including ending the unfair treatment of clinical social worker services for nursing home residents. NASW’s letter argued that mental illnesses are as treatable as other general medical conditions. Furthermore, Medicare coverage for mental health services contain a number of discriminatory and deficient provisions that need to be corrected or updated to reflect advancements in mental health services delivery.  Other important changes in the bill include the immediate elimination of discriminatory outpatient cost-sharing requirements for beneficiaries receiving mental health services and the addition of broader community benefits. Read NASW’s Medicare letter here.  NASW also worked with Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) to reintroduce the Clinical Social Work Medicare Equity Act, S. 583.

House Preps Next Attempt to Repeal Health Reform

House Republicans are renewing their efforts to repeal last year’s Affordable Care Act.   Their new defunding approach will shift all of the law’s funding streams into a different category of discretionary spending, thus subjecting its activities and components to the appropriations process. The new legislation will be spearheaded by Rep. Joe Pitts, R-PA, who plans to attach it to “must-pass” legislation, which is essential to continuing government operations. Rep. Pitts’ approach to defunding would switch all funding from mandatory to discretionary in five key areas of the law including: state insurance exchanges; prevention and public health funding; school-based health centers; “personal responsibility education programs,” including sex education; and training programs for health professionals. The legislation is expected to follow the same course as earlier repeal legislation, which the House passed, but the Senate refused to consider. Health reform supporters are concerned that repeal and defunding measures will discourage community groups and states from applying for implementation grants under the new law.

House Considers Long-Term Care Program Repeal

On March 17, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing about efforts to repeal the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act that was included in the Affordable Care Act.  Many Republican representatives seek repeal of the new program due to cost concerns. The CLASS Act is a voluntary, cash-only benefit program designed to assist enrollees with the cost of long-term care services. Cash benefits are provided to qualified chronically ill and disabled people regardless of age. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, recently determined that CLASS, as planned, is financially unsound, but says the new health law grants her all the authority necessary to make changes to the program to make it financially sound. For more information about CLASS, see NASW’s recent News from the Hill here.

Another Round on Medicare Fees in Congress

Recently, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) announced that they estimate that providers paid under Medicare’s “physician fee schedule or SGR,” including clinical social workers, will face a 29.5 percent fee cut at the end of the calendar year, if Congress does not intervene. Physician advocacy groups reacted with alarm to the size of the projected cut.  AMA President, Cecil Wilson, said, “This cut is the highest ever scheduled cut under the broken Medicare physician payment system, and it threatens access to care for our nation’s seniors, military families, and the baby boomers now entering Medicare.”

The size of the projected cuts will force Congress to find ways to pay for the expected $330 billion price tag of a correction. Since 2002, the Medicare payment formula has required reductions in fees that Congress has subsequently overturned.  NASW, along with other providers paid under the schedule, have called the formula flawed and have asked for a permanent correction. Last year, Congress approved of five separate, short-term extensions of current rates.  As a result, a number of providers encountered disruptions and delays in their practices, and there is a risk of more disruptions beginning in January 2012. NASW will urge Congress to take early action to forestall disruptions for providers and beneficiaries.

Advocacy Blog Roundup

Advocacy Listserv Activity

In the month of February, 1,014 activists sent 1,049 advocacy messages to Congress through Capwiz. The most active alert was about budget cuts.  Thanks to all of you who took the time to take action!  To see all alerts, go here.

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