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Ambassador Brief: March 2015

IN THIS ISSUE:

FROM CHUCK’S CHAIR

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Dear National Council Ambassadors,

In this month’s Ambassador Brief, we bring you an analysis of the latest budget fracas and what it means for health care spending. Take a look at the Dispatch from Capitol Hill to get familiar with the issues we’ll be confronting as we seek to protect important behavioral health programs in the year ahead.

As you do, remember that when it comes to taking action and making change, you’re not alone.

The National Council is closely monitoring opportunities for smart, effective action and will keep you posted as they arise. Stay tuned to the Ambassador Brief and our emails for more – and don’t forget to keep building up those relationships with your elected officials!

Thank you for all that you do.

Sincerely,

Chuck Ingoglia
Senior Vice President, Public Policy and Practice Improvement


UPCOMING ACTIVITIES

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Register for 2015 National Council Conference 

When: Right now
Where:  Register here

If you haven’t already registered for NatCon15, April 20-22 in Orlando, do it today! The National Council is looking to celebrate you and provide you with advocacy-focused workshops, roundtable discussions and star-studded events. Register today!

Ambassador Talking Points: Monthly toolkit for meeting with your elected officials

When: March 25, 2015
Where: Your inbox

For March, the Ambassador Talking Points will provide you with a deep-dive on the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. Stay tuned!

Ambassador Quarterly Call

When: April 8, 2015 at 3pm Eastern
Where: Register here

2015 has already been an active year for the new Congress. On this call we will discuss our updated legislative agenda and give you tips on how to schedule that first meeting with your Member of Congress. Special guest Al Guida will join us to offer insider analysis on key messages, target offices and an outlook for our legislative priorities this year.


AMBASSADOR SPOTLIGHT

 

Speak up! Tell us about the great work you are doing in your community.

The quarterly calls aren’t enough for us. We want to hear more about the fantastic work you are doing so we can feature you here and share your stories with your peers. This will give them a shot at trying your successful advocacy strategies in their own communities. As a National Council Ambassador, your expertise reaches beyond your state and district and helps influence policy decisions that affect the lives of millions of people across the country.

As legislation continues to move, it will be your experiences and your relationships that will have the biggest impact. Remember, for your member of Congress, you are an expert, a resource and most importantly… a constituent. Your member wants to hear from you and so do we. Send us your success stories today!

 


DISPATCH FROM CAPITOL HILL

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5 Lessons for Health Care in Homeland Security

In a hard-fought compromise, Congress last week closed the book on 2015 funding for the Department of Homeland Security. But if you think the Homeland Security fight is squarely in the past, think again. All the buzz inside the Beltway right now is about how the latest budget brawl will affect future legislative showdowns. Here are the top five lessons for our efforts to protect 2016 health care spending.

When Republicans took control of the Senate in January, hopes in many sectors ran high that our days of congressional stalemate were over. Today, political observers are less optimistic.

What exactly happened in the Homeland Security budget debate?
With their new majority in the Senate and an augmented majority in the House, Republicans had hoped to use Homeland Security funding as a way to block President Obama’s recent executive actions on immigration. The House did pass a bill that would have done so, but Senate Democrats prevented the legislation from passing, insisting on a “clean” funding bill. Back on the House side, fractures within the Republican caucus – combined with insistence by Senate Democrats that they would only accept a clean bill – stymied negotiations on an alternative bill that could get through both chambers. After a long week of controversy, finger-pointing and angst, the House unceremoniously passed a bipartisan clean bill to keep the department running, relying on votes from House Democrats to offset the 167 Republican defections.

What does this have to do with health care?
The Homeland Security fight shone a spotlight on the difficult political dynamics that will hound Congress this year as lawmakers deal with our nation’s priorities – including the 2016 budget and the question of how to address sequestration, both major issues for health care providers who rely on federal funding.

Here are the top five takeaways circulating inside the Beltway:

  • The bipartisan way is the only way. The Republican victory in the midterm elections was largely seen as a repudiation of President Obama’s policies and an opportunity to end congressional gridlock. Yet in recent weeks, we’ve seen that having a large congressional majority doesn’t necessarily bring with it free rein to enact your party’s agenda. A Senate majority that falls just short of 60 and fissures within the House Republican caucus continue to be a headache for House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as they seek to advance a Republican agenda, and the Homeland Security fight showed they’ll have to rely on Democratic votes when Republicans are divided.
  • Sixty is still the operative number. Republicans remain six short of the 60 votes necessary to fully control Senate action. That means they must hold all 54 Republicans while finding a way to persuade at least six Democrats to join them. For better or worse, the filibuster is alive and well in the Senate. In the Homeland Security debate, Democrats showed they’re not afraid to use it to force changes to legislation they find unacceptable.
  • External pressure is effective. The ultimate bipartisan passage of Homeland Security funding showed that breaking through a stalemate is possible – but would the outcome have been the same without a looming deadline and threat of a department shutdown? It is clear that, to succeed, both Republicans and Democrats must view an issue as a priority. National Council Ambassadors and behavioral health advocates across the country can help raise the profile of our issues by demonstrating the need back home and putting pressure on Members of Congress to take action.
  • Get on board “must pass” legislation. For the National Council and behavioral health advocates everywhere, the best path to success is the one that goes through legislation that Congress must pass, such as the twelve annual appropriations bills or an upcoming bill to avert a major cut to Medicare physician pay. Competition to be included in those bills is fierce, however, so it is incumbent on all of us to encourage lawmakers to make our priorities their priorities.
  • We’re here to decipher all of this so you don’t have to. The political process is often fractious and inefficient – but by understanding the dynamics at play, we can better position ourselves for success on Capitol Hill. The National Council is closely monitoring opportunities for smart, effective action and will keep you posted as they arise. Stay tuned to the Ambassador Brief and our emails for more – and don’t forget to keep building up those relationships with your elected officials!

STATE OF PLAY

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Mental Health First Aid. Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama called on the nation to “flip the script” on mental health, and gave a ringing endorsement to Mental Health First Aid. “It really gives you the skills you need to identify — and ultimately help — someone in need. Because you never know when these kinds of skills might be useful,” she said. Mental Health First Aid legislation is expected to be introduced in the coming months, authorizing $20 million in grants to fund trainings across the country.

Medicare Formulary Improvement Act. Last year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services attempted to eliminate protected status for antidepressants and antipsychotics in Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. After widespread disapproval, CMS withdrew its proposal while leaving the door open for future changes. New bipartisan legislation in the Senate would permanently protect these medications and preserve patients’ access. For more information on this legislation, check out last month’s Ambassador Talking Points.

Excellence in Mental Health Act. The National Council submitted comments to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration on the draft criteria it released for Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs). These criteria will determine eligibility for organizations to participate in demonstration programs under the law. The National Council voiced numerous concerns and is hopeful SAMHSA will revamp the criteria. Read our full comments here.

Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. Building off a strong end to last year, this bipartisan legislation was reintroduced last month. The bill would provide a series of resources and incentives to help states and local governments expand addiction treatment, prevention, and recovery efforts. The National Council strongly supports this bill and provided input to bill authors Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) as the bill was being prepared. Look for more on this bill in the next edition of the Ambassador Talking Points.


ADVICE AND COUNSEL

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You are Not a Pest

You are a kind, considerate person. You know your legislators and their staffers are extremely busy. You don’t want to bother them unless it’s “REALLY IMPORTANT!” So you wait to reach out to them, because you want to be courteous.

That’s a huge mistake.

Members of Congress and congressional staff are in the relationship business. The more constituents they get to know, and the better they know them, the more successful the legislators will become. That is especially true for constituents — like you — with a particular area of expertise. You will become a resource for the office, someone who the legislator and staff depend on to help them understand the local implications of behavioral health policy.

So work on that relationship, stay in touch and look for reasons to reach out.

  • Provide updates on your facility, including press releases, announcements, etc.
  • Send along news articles that you think might be of interest
  • If your legislator does something you support, send along a note saying so
  • Regularly outline issues of importance to you and your organization
  • Always ask how you can be helpful

BRIEFLY NOTED

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Here are a few thought-provoking articles and resources that we’ve come across recently.  Happy reading!

Mental Health First Aid is sweeping the country. The Dallas Morning News posted an op-ed celebrating Mental Health First Aid and the lives being saved in Texas because of it. “What makes it so powerful is not so much what it does for the first-aid recipient, but what it does for the ‘practitioner.’ Call it the ultimate ‘physician, heal thyself’ moment.” Read more here.

Behavioral health providers just want to be included. $26 billion in incentives have been spent in the federal government’s electronic health records incentive program. The only problem is that behavioral health providers, among others, are not eligible for any of those funds. Read about plans to fix that in the 114th Congress.