On Your Behalf

American families need new policies to help parents manage work and family without shortchanging either, said Diane Halpern, PhD, at a May 20 Capitol Hill briefing co-sponsored by APA, Workplace Flexibility 2010 and the New America Foundation. Research shows that employees allowed to work from home, compress the workweek into four days and take time off to care for sick children suffer less stress and job burnout, and miss fewer workdays, than people with inflexible work policies. They also meet more deadlines and report more company loyalty, said Halpern, an APA past president and director of the Berger Institute for Work, Family and Children at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif.

Also speaking at the briefing, Joseph Grzywacz, PhD, of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, emphasized that employers must build in flexibility to enable all employees to take advantage of work site health promotion programs.

Given the physical and mental toll caused by competing work and family demands, encouraging family-friendly work policies is a critical part of reforming the nation's health-care system, said Gwendolyn P. Keita, PhD, executive director for APA's Public Interest Directorate.

"The stress caused by work/family conflict has incredible costs to families, our health and psychological well-being," Keita said.

The APA Practice Organization's legislative counsel has been invited to participate in key discussions about health-care reform, convened by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. APAPO's Doug Walter, JD, is helping to bring the perspective of the mental health and substance abuse communities to these discussions. He is the only participant who represents a nonphysician provider group.

APA policy, strengthened by a series of resolutions since 2005, prohibits abusive interrogation techniques and limits psychologists' roles at detention facilities that operate in violation of the U.S. Constitution or international law, said APA Ethics Office director Stephen Behnke, PhD, JD, who discussed rules guiding the conduct of psychologists in the interrogation of terrorism detainees with television and radio media in May. He said, "Psychologists should not have anything to do with torture, for any reason, at any time, in any place," and that APA will discipline members found to have acted improperly.

APA was among the scientific and advocacy organizations that hosted an April 28 poster session and reception on Capitol Hill that showed the importance of health-related behavioral and social sciences research. More than 200 people attended the event, National Institutes of Health: Improving the Nation's Health through Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, including Reps. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and David Price (D-N.C.). The event was targeted toward congressional staff who might not know much about behavioral and social sciences research or the extent to which it is supported by the National Institutes of Health.

The Senate Finance Committee, one of the two key Senate committees working on health care and Medicare reform, released three "Descriptions of Policy Options," the first of which details policy options for improving patient care and reducing health-care costs. APA Practice Organization Executive Director Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, responded to this paper in a May 11 letter to Senate Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). Nordal focused on the need for reforming Medicare payment for psychological services, lowering barriers to patient access to necessary services, and psychology training and work force issues.

APAPO continues to collaborate with other health-care organizations to avert a 21 percent sustainable growth rate cut to Medicare reimbursements scheduled to hit on Jan. 1. APAPO's legislative advocacy is focused on gaining congressional passage of three provisions important to professional psychology:

  • Extending the provision enacted in 2008 that partially restored psychotherapy payment rates that were cut in 2007. This provision is set to expire on Dec. 31.

  • Amending the Medicare definition of "physician" to include psychologists, thereby removing unnecessary and inappropriate physician supervision of psychologists' services.

  • Requiring the Medicare program to reimburse psychologists for the evaluation and management services that they may provide to patients within their licensure.

In an April 29 meeting with White House officials, APA emphasized that addressing health-care disparities should be a focus of both health-care reform and the nation's AIDS strategy. APA staff member Daniel E. Dawes, JD, represented the association at the meeting where Hispanic Federation affiliates and partners met the director of the White House Office of AIDS Policy, the director of the White House Policy Working Group and the associate director of the White House Office of Public Liaison.

APA continues to advocate to eliminate health disparities faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. As a member of the National Coalition for LGBT Health, APA has worked to advance the following priorities: appropriate data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity in national health surveys; a definition of the terms "family" and "spouse" that includes same-sex couples and their dependents; and health-care coverage that acknowledges and embraces the needs of transgender people. APA submitted comments regarding these priorities to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as input into its new health promotion and disease prevention program, Healthy People 2020. For further information, contact Jutta Tobias, PhD, via e-mail.

On May 7, Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.) introduced a congressional resolution on fostering resiliency in black youth, which follows up on a report by APA's Task Force on Resilience and Strength in Black Children and Adolescents. Among several key points, the resolution calls for "encouraging research that promotes health and well-being among African-American youth and seeks to understand the relationship between resilience and various types of development, including physical, identity, emotional, social and cognitive."

APA is working with the recently established White House Council on Women and Girls, a group that seeks to enhance, support and coordinate the efforts of existing federal programs for women and girls. APA members are sharing their research and clinical expertise in such areas as prevention and education on sexualization of girls, violence against women and postpartum depression.

APA, along with other members of the Friends of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, co-sponsored a May 20 congressional briefing outlining new research on the effects of drinking alcohol during pregnancy. NIAAA Acting Director Kenneth Warren, PhD, explained that about one in 100 children born today will fall somewhere in the range of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Edward Riley, PhD, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, discussed his finding that FASD shrinks the developing infant's brain and that different stages of development are affected by alcohol at different times. For example, the facial traits common to children with fetal alcohol syndrome—thin upper lip, eyes appear wide apart, minor ear abnormalities—seem to emerge only if drinking occurs during certain periods during pregnancy. By contrast, the brain is susceptible almost as soon as development begins. That's why, he said, many children exhibit the syndrome's mental deficits, but none of the typically associated physical features. The researchers emphasized that encouraging physicians to educate women they treat about the dangers of FASD, and about how to get treatment for their addiction, is the best way to combat this preventable disease.