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Ambassadors Brief: July 2014

In This Issue

From Chuck’s Chair

NCAN-chucks-chair-small

Dear National Council Ambassadors,

It is such a pleasure to be able to welcome you to the newly re-branded and re-launched National Council Ambassador Network and to this inaugural newsletter designed especially for you – something special for special people.

As the 113th Congress winds down, we recognize that there have been tremendous wins for the behavioral health community – passage of the Excellence in Mental Health Act, stopping CMS from implementing a damaging change in the Medicare Part D program, and securing appropriations for Mental Health First Aid.

We also realize two important truths: 1) that there is so much more that we need to accomplish to help the millions of Americans living with substance use and mental disorders, and 2) the political and economic pressures in Washington will make this additional advocacy more difficult.

You are our secret weapon to answer these challenges!  That is why we are so grateful to you and why we will do everything we can to make sure that you have the most up to date information about policy and politics, that you always are prepared when you walk into a meeting, and that you are appropriately recognized for the work that you do that helps protect or expand critical services.

Why are you so important to our efforts?  At the end of the day, Members of Congress need to make sure that the work they are doing in Washington is important and makes a different to their constituents. The fact that you, as a National Council Ambassador, are willing to make the investment of your time and energy to meet with your member of Congress and their staff on a regular basis to discuss issues of importance, helps them stay grounded in the realities of the district, and responsive to the needs of constituents.

On behalf of all of us at the National Council, I look forward to working with each and every one of you. Here’s to your efforts – and our continued ongoing success in Washington!

Sincerely,

Chuck Ingoglia
Senior Vice President, Public Policy and Practice Improvement


 Upcoming Ambassador Activities

NCAN-Upcoming-activities-smallEach issue of the Ambassadors Brief includes information on our upcoming activities and opportunities to make contact with federal legislators. As always, the National Council team is standing by, ready to answer your questions or help in any way we can.

July 16: National Council Ambassadors Network Kick-off Call

When:                  Wednesday, July 16, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT

Where:                 Dial 1-866-809-4014; Access code: 984-6200#

Please join us for this important call as we welcome you and your fellow Ambassadors to the National Council Ambassadors Network (NCAN).  We’ll introduce you to the National Council team, go over the basics of being an Ambassador, and get you started with some suggestions for setting up your first meetings with members of Congress.  We promise you’ll learn something new.

August: Congressional Recess

When:                  August 1 – September 7, 2014

Where:                 Your hometown

Soon, members of Congress will recess for the month of August and head home.  Legislators use this time to re-connect with their constituents and get a sense of what matters to the folks back home. As an NCAN Ambassador, the August recess offers an important opportunity to catch up with your Senators and/or Representative.

We strongly encourage you to set up a meeting with your legislator(s) while they’re home in August. There are several ways you can do this. Click here for a step-by-step guide. We’ll also discuss how to set up a recess meeting during the July 16th kick-off call.


Dispatch from Capitol Hill 

NCAN-dispatch-smallHere, we provide Ambassadors with a “look behind the curtain” in Washington, DC: an exclusive analysis of the politics, stakeholders and processes that impact legislation and regulation in the behavioral health arena.

People who live and work in political Washington have been focused on two things recently:  the World Cup, and the implications of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) loss in a Republican primary in June.

Much has been written about why Cantor lost and the implications for legislative progress through the rest of this year. On the surface, it may seem that whatever incentives existed for Republicans and Democrats to compromise have completely vanished. Pundits are making the talk show rounds, arguing it’s less likely than ever before that Congress will address any big issues — like immigration reform — before the November elections.

On the other hand, when it comes to behavioral health, we have seen major progress this Congress. Our field’s efforts in working with legislators of both parties to support Mental Health First Aid and a broad demonstration project based on the Excellence in Mental Health Act show that things can still get done in Washington. Recent bipartisan talks on rival mental health bills prove that while it may be difficult, it is not impossible to come to mutual agreement on substantive issues.

Success on both of these important legislative issues should be attributed to a number of factors, including the perseverance of phenomenal champions in both the Senate and the House and compelling stories demonstrating the profound need to reform our behavioral health system. But none of this could have happened without constituents’ concerted efforts back home to win their legislators’ support.

Former Majority Leader Cantor’s defeat, therefore, does not mean that nothing can get done on Capitol Hill. What it shows us is the vital role that constituents play in encouraging their legislators to support their priorities… and holding elected officials accountable in the voting booth when they don’t.


State of Play 

NCAN-state-of-play-smallYou asked for more updates on the status of National Council legislative priorities – and we’ll deliver, with this monthly feature on the progress of major bills and laws.

Excellence in Mental Health Act. The National Council continues working with providers and state officials throughout the country to educate them on the details of the Excellence Act and help them prepare for the upcoming demonstration program. We hosted a webinar on this topic July 2. If you missed the webinar, you can check out the slides and recording here.

Mental Health First Aid. The National Council is working to educate congressional staff about the importance of Mental Health First Aid. To that end, we’re hosting two congressional briefings on July 16th highlighting public safety officers’ use of Mental Health First Aid to improve crisis response. If you’re local to the DC-MD-VA area, we invite you to join us. Email rebeccaf@thenationalcouncil.org for more details.

Behavioral Health IT Act. July 22, the Behavioral Health IT Coalition (of which the National Council is a member) is holding a briefing for congressional staff on the promise of health IT for improving behavioral healthcare – and the need to support IT adoption with federal incentive payments. If you’re local to the DC-MD-VA area, we invite you to join us. Email rebeccaf@thenationalcouncil.org for more details.

Substance Use Funding and Other 2015 Appropriations Priorities. The conventional wisdom in Washington is that there won’t be much progress on the 2015 Labor-Health and Human Services-Education appropriation bill until after the November elections. National Council staff continue meeting with key appropriators to discuss the importance of the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block grant and other line items in the SAMHSA budget that fund critical mental health and substance use programs.

Parity. Here at the National Council, we read the Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions so you don’t have to. And the May 23 issue of the Unified Agenda indicated the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services may release rulemaking on the application of parity to Medicaid in the next 12 months. No further details are available yet, but we’ll keep you posted as we learn more.


Advice and Counsel

NCAN-advice-counsel-smallNational Council Ambassadors are busy people.  You’re active in your community, you volunteer to help whenever asked and you’re committed to improving behavioral health delivery in your home town and across the nation. Because you are so busy, we want to be sure you have the tools and skills needed to effectively and efficiently fulfill your mission as an Ambassador. 

In this issue, we provide five tips on making an effective phone call to your Senator or Representative.

  • Know the Health LA – In every congressional office there is a staff member assigned to mental and behavioral health issues.  Learn the name of the legislative assistant (LA) with responsibility for mental health issues.  You can do this by calling the office and asking for his or her name.  Then, next time you call, you can ask for the Health LA by name.
  • Be Prepared – Before you place the call, make sure you are prepared.  Check the National Council website and Facebook page for talking points on the issue about which you are calling.  And be ready to talk about why the issue is important to you (and/or your organization) specifically.
  • Be Vigilant – Congressional staffers often handle multiple issues and are extremely busy.  If you are not able to reach the Health LA on your first try, leave a message and include your name, the name of your organization and the town in which it is located, along with your phone number.
  • Be Brief – Because staffers are so busy, they will appreciate a short call that tells them what they need to know:  Who you are; one sentence about your organization; the purpose of your call and exactly what you’d like the legislator to do (co-sponsor legislation, vote for or against a specific bill, etc.)
  • Be Courteous – Be sure to say thank you and, most important, to offer to be of assistance to the staffer or legislator at any time should they have questions.

BRIEFLY NOTED

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

Lobbying is Dead; Long Live Lobbying – Doug Pinkham of the Public Affairs Council describes how the lobbying profession is evolving, making the case that the traditional stereotype of lobbyists schmoozing and calling in personal favors is shifting in favor of constituent empowerment. “Since constituents now have better channels for expressing their opinions, politicians are paying more attention to them.” Read more.

Moderate Voters Are A Myth – Vox.com’s Ezra Klein argues that current polling methodologies tend to mislabel as moderates voters with extreme views on both ends of the ideological spectrum – with major implications for our politics and elections. “’Moderate’ is simultaneously one of the most powerful and least meaningful descriptions in politics,” he argues. Do you agree? Read more.

Highlights from NatCon14 in Washington – If you weren’t able to attend the 2014 Conference — or if you missed sessions you still want to see — Check out our YouTube Channel here.