Spending Bill Highlights the Shortage of Medicare Mental Health Providers

On March 23, President Trump signed H.R. 1625, a massive spending bill that keeps the federal government open through the end of the fiscal year. The $1.3 trillion package provided funding for many important behavioral health programs and also included a critical provision that advances our Medicare legislation.

The NBCC had been supporting our House sponsor, Rep. John Katko (R-NY), in pursuing language in the omnibus authorizing mental health counselors to serve as Medicare providers. While we were unsuccessful in getting the language into the bill, the following provision was included:

“The agreement is aware that Medicare beneficiaries have limited access to substance use disorder and mental health services, particularly in rural and underserved areas. The agreement notes concern about the shortage of eligible mental health providers for the Medicare population and supports efforts to explore the expansion of the mental and behavioral health workforce.”

Although the language falls short of our request and will not allow counselors to participate in the Medicare program, it is a significant accomplishment and an acknowledgment by Congress that something must be done to increase the number of behavioral health providers available to Medicare beneficiaries.

The timing of the language is optimal as Congress moves from the budget to opioid legislation. NBCC has been calling on all counselors to contact their legislators to include our Medicare legislation, H.R. 3032/ S. 1879, in the opioid package. Building on the congressional acknowledgment in the spending bill, we hope to finally get this legislation passed.

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