The Medicare Mental Health Access Act would remove physician oversight of psychological services in Medicare.

Members of Congress have introduced a bill that would allow practicing psychologists to provide mental and behavioral health services to Medicare beneficiaries without first obtaining prior approval or supervision from a physician.

The legislation, the Medicare Mental Health Access Act (H.R. 884), introduced Jan. 30, would give psychologists independent practice authority in all Medicare treatment settings, leading to improved access to mental health treatments for Medicare beneficiaries.

If enacted, psychologists would join dentists, chiropractors, optometrists and podiatrists as fully independent providers in the Medicare system.

“It's clear that Medicare beneficiaries need better access to mental health treatment, and specifically to the full set of services provided by psychologists,” said Arthur C. Evans, PhD., APA's chief executive officer. “Seniors are being hit hard by the ongoing opioid crisis, by chronic pain, by depression and by dementia. In all of these cases and others, psychological interventions are underused, and Medicare's outdated restriction on access to psychological services is a big reason why. The Medicare Mental Health Access Act will fix that problem.”

According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, more than 50 million people are enrolled in Medicare, making it the single largest health insurance program in the country. Medicare is also the only health care payer that continues to require physician oversight, supervision or prior authorization of psychological services in outpatient rehabilitation facilities, partial hospitalization programs and other treatment settings outside of a psychologist's office.

The unnecessary oversight can lead to delayed mental health treatment for Medicare beneficiaries.

Being excluded from the “physician” definition also means that psychologists are not eligible to receive Medicare's mental health shortage area bonus payments as an incentive for providing services in rural and underserved areas.

H.R. 884 was introduced by U.S. Reps. Judy Chu, D-Calif., Jason Smith, R-Mo., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla.

Last year, hundreds of psychologists visited members of Congress in Washington, D.C., to advocate for adding psychologists to Medicare's “physician” definition.

View APA's Complete Guide to Medicare for Psychologists to learn more about being a Medicare provider.

Feb. 7, 2019