News from the Hill – March 2011, Second Edition

Mar 31, 2011

Social Work Reinvestment Act Reintroduced! Support Your Profession Today.

While the nation struggles with an economic recession, social workers are the professionals who will primarily keep society’s social safety net intact. We provide the services that will help people maintain employment, shelter, food, and other life-sustaining services during this difficult time. We also care for the aging baby boomers, children in need, and individuals experiencing mental health challenges. Social workers currently serve over 10 million people each day, and that number will continue to grow. By investing in the profession of social work now, our nation can save money and improve outcomes in the long run.

In order to recruit and retain enough professional social workers to keep pace with this demand, we need your support. Please contact your Representative and Senators and ask them to cosponsor and actively work to ensure passage of the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act (HR 1106/S. 584). This legislation will form a reinvestment commission to review workforce challenges and help to determine how we can continue to provide services and resources to individuals, families, and communities in need.

We appreciate the letters of support sent from over 100,000 social workers since the bill was first introduced. Please take a moment to send a new letter today.

New CDC Report Finds Almost 50 Million Americans Uninsured

Almost 50 million Americans are now without health insurance, an increase of three million from one year ago, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report found that from January through September 2010, 49.5 million U.S. residents of all ages (16.3%) were uninsured at the time of interview. Additionally, 60.8 million (20.0%) of survey participants had been uninsured for at least part of the year prior to interview, and 36.1 million (11.9%) had been uninsured for more than a year at the time of interview.

NASW Attends House Subcommittee on Immigration and Enforcement Hearing

In March 2011, NASW attended the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Immigration and Enforcement hearing regarding immigration reform in America.  The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights conveyed testimony which reflected the overall position of the social justice community, particularly the need to promote policies that fully and legally integrate immigrants into American society. The issue of Immigration reform is a significant issue for NASW members.  NASW believes that comprehensive immigration reform is the most effective way to address the needs of undocumented individuals who are often unfairly treated while trying to seek a better life in America. NASW looks forward to working with Congress and our coalition partners to seek constructive solutions.

Big Medicaid Cuts Expected in House GOP Budget

House Republicans are preparing a budget for the new federal fiscal year beginning October 1, 2012 that would greatly diminish the current Medicaid program. Although the formal GOP budget plan has not yet been released, its broad contours are under discussion. The GOP plan is authored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and is expected to be released within days. The plan will make large cuts in Medicaid by capping the states’ allocations and creating a block grant of the program. The approach, previously considered by a GOP-led Congress in the mid-1990s, would no longer pay a fixed percentage of state Medicaid costs and instead would provide a fixed sum to each state with greatly increased flexibility to reduce services and eligibility. Program advocates are planning a vigorous defense of the current program and funding levels, and NASW will be very involved in the coming congressional debate.

Legislation Incentivizes Clinical Social Workers’ Participation in Electronic Health Records

On March 10, 2011, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) reintroduced the Behavioral Health Information Technology Act (S. 539) that would make clinical social workers and other behavioral health providers eligible for incentive payments under the Medicaid and Medicare electronic health record (EHR) incentive payment program. The original 2008 economic stimulus legislation provided incentive payments for hospitals and other medical providers that demonstrate “meaningful use” of EHRs in services paid under Medicaid and Medicare. However, psychiatrists were made the only behavioral health professional or facility eligible for the bonus payments under the original law. The new legislation would authorize clinical social workers (CSWs) and other behavioral health providers to receive incentive payments within their Medicare and Medicaid payment rates. In addition to CSWs, the expanded incentive program would include the claims of psychologists, community mental health centers, psychiatric hospitals, and clinics offering substance abuse treatment.

The objective of the legislation is to encourage the meaningful use of electronic health records by behavioral health providers and for such providers to be on par with the rest of the health care continuum in the exchange of electronic health information. Ultimately, widespread meaningful use of EHR data should result in improved health and safety for consumers. NASW is supporting the legislation. A companion bill is expected to be introduced shortly in the House, and both bills will face an uphill battle for scarce Medicare funding.

2011 Medicare Changes for Clinical Social Workers

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will implement several significant coverage and payment changes in 2011 that will positively affect payments for clinical social work services. NASW members with login information may read a new publication on our website here.

Political Climate

While the Presidential election of 2012 may seem a long way off, several Republicans are already considering entering the race.  Governors, Senators, and other leading GOP figures are beginning to develop exploratory committees, which often lead to formal campaigns.  At this point in 2007, Candidate Obama had already raised $25 million.  This would seem to put the entire Republican field at a disadvantage, since President Obama has been raising large sums of money throughout his tenure.  However, campaign contribution limits, especially as applied to corporations and unions, have been greatly loosened by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.  These groups will be able to spend virtually limitless amounts in support of candidates of any party.  Campaign fundraising, while still significant, will not necessarily dominate as in past elections when corporate and union contributions were sharply limited.  Once the Republican Party has settled on a candidate, and presuming that President Obama will run for reelection, we will see the full effect of the Citizens United decision and the ways in which increased outside spending influences the outcome of the presidential election and other races across the country.

This only serves to reiterate the importance of NASW’s grassroots engagement.  In order for social workers to make their collective voice heard, it will be even more imperative to get involved in campaigns across the nation in support of PACE endorsed candidates at the local, state, and federal levels.  While money may play an ever increasing role in America’s political dialogue, it’s the conversations between people that ultimately matter most.

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