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Rebecca Farley

Director, Policy & Advocacy, National Council for Behavioral Health

Health Equity and Accountability Act Introduced

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“Mental and behavioral health social workers” would be eligible for federal loan repayment benefits under new legislation introduced by Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) with 70 cosponsors. The Health Equity and Accountability Act of 2014 (H.R.5294) adds these professionals to existing loan repayment programs, a move designed to bolster the behavioral health workforce. It also requires the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and the Institute of Medicine to conduct a study on “mental and behavioral health disparities in racial and ethnic minority groups” and issue recommendations for improvement to Congress.

In addition to the these provisions, H.R. 5294 would permit marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, and substance abuse counselors to provide services under Medicare. Under current law, Medicare does not pay for services offered by these providers. H.R. 5294 is the fifth bill introduced during this session of Congress to add mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists to Medicare; however, the other bills (H.R. 3662, S. 592, S. 2359, and H.R. 4574) did not also include substance abuse counselors.

H.R. 5294 defines a substance abuse counselor as an individual who:

  • Has performed at least 2 years of supervised substance abuse counselor practice;
  • In the case of an individual performing services in a State that provides for licensure or certification of substance abuse counselors or professional counselors, is licensed or certified as a substance abuse counselor or professional counselor in such State; or
  • Is a drug and alcohol counselor as defined in section federal regulations

H.R. 5294 revises the HITECH Act – the 2009 law that established federal incentive payments for providers to adopt and meaningfully use health information technology – to include rehabilitation facilities, long-term care facilities, and home health agencies. Unfortunately, the bill does not extend eligibility to mental health and substance use providers, as the National Council has long supported.