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Senators Introduce Bill to Improve Access to Mental Health Services in the United States

The NASW applauds Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) for reintroducing the Improving Access to Mental Health Act (S. 782), a bipartisan bill that would make mental health services more available to older Americans and boost the rate that Medicare reimburses clinical social workers.

The legislation is a companion to H.R. 1533, which was introduced earlier this month by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus. Lee and Stabenow are social workers; Barrasso is a physician.

“In less than two decades, the number of people aged 65 and older in the United States will outnumber people under age 18,” says NASW CEO Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW. “The mental health needs of this population will be huge and possibly overwhelming. This legislation ensures a sufficient number of clinical social workers will be there to provide much-needed support and services.”

Stabenow and Barrasso say they support the legislation because it will benefit people in their states and around the nation.

“One in five Americans struggle with some kind of mental illness and older Americans are no exception. Michigan seniors should be able to get quality care from the provider of their choice and this bill ensures that clinical social workers are among those providers,” Stabenow says.

“Improving mental health care is an important personal priority of mine,” Barrasso says. “Once again, I am proud to join with Senator Stabenow to increase access to mental health services. As a doctor and leader of the Senate Rural Health Caucus, I am passionate about making sure everyone, especially those living in rural communities, can get the care they need.”

The “Improving Access to Mental Health Act” would increase access to mental health services for residents of skilled nursing facilities and provide access to the complete set of clinical services that help Medicare beneficiaries cope with medical conditions. In addition, the bill would align Medicare payment for clinical social workers with that of other nonphysician providers by increasing the reimbursement rate from 75% to 85% of the physician fee schedule.

March is National Social Work Month and this year’s theme is “Elevate Social Work!” NASW is undertaking a number of efforts this month to shine a light on the invaluable contributions of social workers and call for adequate compensation. S. 782 is a key step in this effort.

More than 300,000 social workers are employed in the fields of health care, mental health care, and substance use disorders. In fact, social workers provide over one-half of mental health services in the United States.

“The Improving Access to Mental Health Act is a win-win for our nation and the social work profession,” McClain says. “It will help ensure that people who have contributed so much to our Nation’s greatness can receive high-quality mental health care as they grow older. And it levels the professional playing field by ensuring that clinical social workers get the same Medicare reimbursement rate as other helping professions.”

Source: NASW