Counselors reimbursed by medicareBill Advocates for Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists to be on Medicare Panel

On January 21, 2021, Mike Thompson-05) and Rep. John Kato (Ny-24) reintroduced the Mental Health Access Improvement Act. This bipartisan bill, which will amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act was first introduced in 2013. It would permit counselors and marriage and family therapists to provide mental health services to Medicare beneficiaries. The would make counselors eligible for Medicare telehealth reimbursement. Per the proposed act, “the amounts paid shall be 80 percent of the lesser of the actual charge for the services or 75 percent of the amount determined for payment of a psychologist …’’. To date, only licensed psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, and psychiatric nurses have been allowed to provide such services to seniors covered by Medicare. For more information on other anticipated Medicare and private payer changes click here.

Senator Thompson has more than a decade of advocating for counselors to get medicare reimbursement. He has proposed a number of bills supporting the reimbursement of counselors for Medicare. For more information about his work, see his Congressional webpage and write to your elected officials to support his advocacy on behalf of counseling. Such advocacy by the professional community is needed for both counseling as a profession as well as clients during these times of increased behavioral turmoil.

Medicare Telehealth Reimbursement: Improved Access to Care and Provider Shortage Lessened

This legislation would increase access to mental health services for millions of seniors, while at the same time, help lessen the shortage of America’s mental health provider population currently serving seniors. While mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists have the training and education to be licensed to provide services to mental health clients, they are not currently eligible for Medicare telehealth reimbursement. Therefore, seniors seeking their services have to pay out of pocket if they elect to see a counselor or marriage and family therapist.

This bill is a win-win for seniors who will have greater access to care at a lower cost, and for counselors and marriage and family therapists who desire to serve the senior population but find their hands tied by current Medicare regulations. Said Rep. Thompson, “Often seniors are at a greater risk for mental illnesses and can find it hard to get access to the mental health services they need…. When we address these mental health care needs, we help ensure they don’t lead to greater health problems that can be costly for our nation’s seniors. ” For a relevant study regarding the connection between mental health and physical health in older adults, see The dynamics of physical and mental health in the older population. 2017 Jun;9:52-62.

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