Senate Approves Legislation To Allow Medicare Coverage for Family Counseling
The Senate earlier this month passed legislation (S 784) that would allow Medicare to cover treatment by marriage and family therapists and licensed counselors, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports.
According to Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.), who sponsored the legislation, many Medicare beneficiaries do not have access to other mental health professionals, and one-fifth of rural counties have no mental health services.
The Senate approved the legislation as part of a broader fiscal year 2006 budget reconciliation bill (S 1932), but "it would have to survive negotiations with the House before being sent to President Bush" for consideration, the AP/Sun reports. The bill faces opposition from the American Psychiatric Association, which maintains that the legislation would prompt Medicare to increase spending for marriage and family counseling rather than services for more serious mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
According to Tom Leibfried, an APA lobbyist, many states do not allow mental health professionals with a Master's degree to diagnose and treat patients with serious mental illnesses. Leibfried said, "These are the wrong services to cover at the wrong time. There's a huge resource issue," adding, "Congress is finding it hard to provide new money for services, and the first thing to fund would not be these."
The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission in 2000 voted 12-2 to recommend against Medicare coverage for "nonphysician providers of mental health services" (Freking, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 11/13).