10.08.15

Congresswoman Lee & Senators Stabenow, Mikulski Introduce Bill to Improve Seniors’ Access to Mental Health Services

Washington, D.C. –   Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) and U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) today introduced a bill to help seniors who are struggling with mental illness. The Improving Access to Mental Health Act of 2015 will improve seniors’ access to behavioral health services by updating the way the Medicare program reimburses clinical social workers. Senator Stabenow, Senator Mikulski and Congresswoman Lee are long-time champions of enhancing patient access to quality mental health services.

“As a psychiatric social worker, I know the importance of providing all people with high-quality mental health services and care. Clinical social workers are the largest source of mental health providers in the nation, with more than 200,000 currently practicing,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee. “However, due to outdated policies, social workers are not adequately reimbursed for the vital services they provide. This bill will ensure that Medicare beneficiaries have access to the essential mental health services provided by clinical social workers on a daily basis. I’m proud to join fellow social workers Senators Debbie Stabenow and Barbara Mikulski in introducing this critical bill and working to expand mental health services for all.”

“Mental illness is an issue that touches every family in some way, and seniors are no exception,” said Senator Stabenow. “Seniors should be able to get the best quality care from the provider of their choice, and this bill makes sure that clinical social workers are among those providers.”

“Our nation’s seniors and patients suffering from mental illness deserve to have access to the all the support and services they need at the provider of their choice,” Senator Mikulski said. “As a former social worker, I know that wherever there is a compelling human need, there will always be a social worker standing sentry on the front lines, ready to help. This legislation will expand access to mental health services provided by clinical social workers so that those suffering from mental illness can get the critical care they need, when they need it, from the providers of their choice.”

“In any given year, nearly one out of five people in our nation experiences a mental health condition. NASW commends Sens. Debbie Stabenow, Barbara Mikulski and Congresswoman Lee for introducing this legislation, which recognizes the important role access to quality mental health care plays in our nation’s mental health,” said Angelo McClain, CEO, National Association of Social Workers. “We are pleased that Sen. Stabenow and her colleagues appreciate the critical role clinical social workers play in providing mental health care and makes the life-affirming services that social workers provide more available to Americans.”

The Improving Access to Mental Health Act of 2015 would align Medicare payments for clinical social workers with that of other non-physician health care providers like nurse practitioners and physician assistants.  This new payment structure, as well as a change to the reimbursements for clinical social workers at skilled nursing facilities, will encourage trained and licensed professionals to care for more seniors in their communities. The legislation would also ensure that seniors have access to the full range of behavioral assessment and intervention services that clinical social workers can provide no matter where they live. 

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Congresswoman Lee is a member of the Appropriations and Budget Committees, the Steering and Policy Committee, is a Senior Democratic Whip, former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and co-chair of the Progressive Caucus. She serves as chair of the Whip’s Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity.