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Congress introduces legislation to improve access to clinical social work services

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) applauds Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), John Barrasso (R-WY), Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) for reintroducing the Improving Access to Mental Health Act, a bicameral and bipartisan bill that would boost the rate that Medicare reimburses clinical social workers and make mental health services more available to Medicare beneficiaries.

“Access to mental health services for Medicare beneficiaries is urgently needed,” said NASW CEO Anthony Estreet, PhD, MBA, LCSW-C. “This legislation provides a long overdue Medicare reimbursement increase for clinical social workers, thus ensuring their ability to provide much-needed support and services to beneficiaries.”
NASW commends Senator Stabenow and Representative Lee, who are both social workers, Senator Barrasso, who is a physician, and Representative Fitzpatrick, for championing this legislation and recognizing the positive impacts it will have on seniors and providers in their states and around the nation.

“Last year, we came together to pass transformative community mental health care to help ensure that people across the country, including seniors, have access to the behavioral health services they need,” said Senator Stabenow. “Providers play a critical role in delivering the quality care that people receive. Seniors should be able to receive care from the provider of their choice, and this bill ensures that clinical social workers are among those providers.”

“As a doctor, I know the importance of improving access to mental health services for our nation’s seniors,” said Senator Barrasso. “Our bipartisan legislation expands the number of mental health professionals that can provide critical care in our communities. This is vital for Wyoming and other rural communities across America, which often face the greatest shortage of mental health providers.”

“As a former psychiatric social worker, I know how important ensuring critical mental health services is for communities, especially marginalized communities. Clinical social workers are the largest group of mental health service providers in the country and by incentivizing them to become Medicare providers, we can expand access to continuous and high-quality mental health services for everyone. I am proud to join a fellow social worker, Senator Debbie Stabenow, Senator Barrasso, and Congressman Fitzpatrick in reintroducing this bill to expand essential mental health services for all,” said Congresswoman Lee.

“As co-chair of the bipartisan Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Taskforce, I am committed to securing Congressional funding for adequate mental health resources for American families who face these challenges, including Medicare beneficiaries” said Congressman Fitzpatrick. “I am proud to co-lead the Improving Access to Mental Health Act that ensures that seniors who utilize Medicare benefits have greater access to mental health services.”

The Improving Access to Mental Health Act would increase the Medicare reimbursement rate for clinical social workers from 75 percent to 85 percent of the physician fee schedule. In addition, the bill 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.
March is National Social Work Month and this year’s theme is “Social Workers Break Barriers.” 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. This vital legislation is a key step in this effort.

The Ipsos research company this month released a national public opinion survey that indicated that more than half of Americans support higher compensation for social workers. The survey also revealed that one in six Americans said they or their family have been helped by a social worker, often on issues involving mental health, and 80 percent said the social worker improved the situation. 

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 more than half of mental health services in the United States.

“Passage of the Improving Access to Mental Health Act is critical for our nation and the social work profession,” Estreet said. “It will help Medicare beneficiaries access high-quality mental health services, and it will ensure clinical social workers can provide services within their scope of practice at a more equitable reimbursement rate.”

Organizations that have endorsed the Improving Access to Mental Health Act

American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare
American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work
American Health Care Association
American Society on Aging
Center for Health and Social Care Integration at Rush
Clinical Social Work Association
Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy
Council on Social Work Education
Jewish Federations of North America
Legal Action Center
National Association of Social Workers
National Council for Mental Wellbeing
Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies
Postpartum Support International
Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care
The Gerontological Society of America
The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), in Washington, DC, is the largest membership organization of professional social workers. It promotes, develops, and protects the practice of social work and social workers. NASW also seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through its advocacy.