AAMFT, along with the Medicare Access Coalition, partnered with the National Council of Behavioral Health to hold a briefing on March 15 titled Preventing Suicide in Older Adults. This briefing, held on both the House and Senate side, featured esteemed panelists from the National Institutes of Mental Health and Peak Wellness Center of Wyoming, with Chuck Ingoglia of the National Council acting as the moderator. A beneficiary of mental health services also shared her story of success to emphasize the need for older adults to have access to quality mental health care. The presentation focused on one unifying sentiment: allowing MFTs and licensed professional counselors (LPCs) to bill Medicare is a simple solution to a major mental health access problem.
Congressional briefings are held to communicate policy solutions and information to congressional offices by inviting staffers and other important personnel. Typically, light refreshments and meals are provided to audience members, which makes the event more enticing to staffers with busy schedules. A briefing usually consists of a 45-minute presentation, and time allotted for a question-and-answer session after. While congressional staffers are the main target audience, it is not uncommon for other organizations to send individuals to briefings to learn more on a subject. The panelists for this briefing were chosen because they see the direct effect lack of access has on the mental health of older adults.
The first panelist for our briefing was Dr. Jovier Evans, of the National Institutes of Mental Health. He works specifically in geriatrics, and provided background statistics on the mental health of older adults. Dr. Evans discussed how depression and anxiety present differently in older adults, and the intermingling of physical illnesses with mental disorders. His presentation focused on the need for mental health care in the elderly population.
The next panelists included Linda Goodman and Karl Cline, Chief Clinical Officer and Chief Executive Officer respectively, of Peak Wellness Center in Wyoming. Peak Wellness Center, a community mental health care facility, serves a rural population while also facing a severe workforce shortage. According to Ms. Goodman over 45% of the elderly patients are dependent on Medicare and often the only providers (social workers, one psychologist) are too busy. Sometimes the provider that is available may not be the one best suited for the patient’s needs. Both Goodman and Cline see the need for MFTs and LPCs in Medicare to better serve their community.
The final speaker, a beneficiary of mental health services, explained the positive impact accessing quality mental health care had on her life. Including MFTs and LPCs in Medicare will increase access to care, especially in rural areas where providers are scarce. Senator Barrasso, the sponsor of the Seniors Mental Health Access Improvement Act of 2017 (S. 1879) shared these sentiments when he appeared for the Senate side briefing (pictured above).
Both briefings went well, and AAMFT plans to hold our own briefing in the future. We hope that the visibility of our issue, and the support of other, sometimes larger, organizations will lead to legislative success. If you have not done so already, urge your Member of Congress to Support MFTs in Medicare.