State Leadership Conference

Strong, persistent advocacy from APA and its members resulted in a signature accomplishment one year ago — the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Among other benefits, the law insures 32 million more people, brings down the cost of prescription drugs for seniors, ends discrimination based on pre-existing conditions and eliminates lifetime caps on care for children and families, said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at the State Leadership Conference in March.

Those efforts by psychologists are directly helping America’s families and creating a healthier nation, Pelosi said.

“Your advocacy was essential to ensure expanded protections of mental health parity for a much larger group of Americans, the inclusion of mental health and substance abuse services as essential benefits in the health insurance exchanges and a focus on improvements in quality of care,” she said.

Pelosi spoke after receiving APA’s Outstanding Leadership Award at the State Leadership Conference banquet, held the night before attendees met with members of Congress and their staff in more than 300 office visits. Pelosi received the award for her support of and commitment to psychology.

APA’s advocacy is making a difference for individual families, said Pelosi, who shared the story of Colleen, a mother from Nebraska with two children with rare kidney disorders, and a third needing treatment for autism.

“To get her son the treatment and medicine he needs, Colleen has had to fight her insurance company every step of the way,” Pelosi said.

But now because of the Affordable Care Act, Colleen’s children won’t be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions and won’t face lifetime limits on their care, she said.

“I know that tomorrow, you will be storming Capitol Hill. I urge you to stand strong for families like Colleen’s by protecting the Affordable Care Act,” Pelosi said.

Advocacy from psychologists for comprehensive health-care reform built on the profession’s long-standing support for parity for mental health and addiction treatment. That advocacy helped win a landmark victory in Congress in 2008, Pelosi said.

Now, psychologists must stand up and defend those hard-won health-care reforms through personal advocacy in congressional offices, Pelosi said.

“You know why mental health parity is so vital,” she said. “Every year, mental illness results in 1.3 billion lost days of work or school. That adds up to more lost productivity for mental illness than arthritis, stroke, heart attack and cancer combined,” she said.

“I share tonight’s honor with all of you for your work to make quality mental health services available for all Americans,” she added.

Pelosi also thanked APA and its members for helping protect more than 113 million Americans from facing unfair mental health coverage restrictions by their health insurance companies for seeking mental health and substance use treatment, through the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2008.

The decade-long effort culminating in parity drew inspiration from the work of the late Sen. Wellstone, and the leadership of former Reps. Patrick Kennedy and Jim Ramstad, who shared their personal stories and worked on parity in a cooperative, bipartisan spirit, she said.

Pelosi pointed out that psychologist Steve Morin, PhD, served as her first health policy adviser. A past president of the California Psychological Association, Morin helped ensure that mental health and addiction issues were part of every discussion on health issues, especially in efforts to fight HIV/AIDS, Pelosi said.

The parity law — in effect for most plans in January 2010 — prohibits insurance companies from requiring higher co-pays or deductibles for consumers seeking mental health and addiction services, among other protections.

“We are so proud that this law is now enforceable and doing exactly what it was intended to do. But this legislation was just the beginning,” she said.

The Affordable Care Act also includes initiatives that improve and coordinate care for the chronically ill. Psychologists will participate in interdisciplinary health-care teams formed around primary-care providers to ensure that mental health needs are addressed.

“We will keep working to ensure that illness in the brain is treated like illness anywhere else in the body,” Pelosi said.

Parity is especially important for veterans returning from service in Afghanistan and Iraq who find private-sector employment, and National Guard and Reserve service members who don’t have lifetime care from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Now, those veterans will have access to mental health and addiction treatment without discrimination, Pelosi said.

“Tonight you have honored me for making quality mental health services available for all Americans. But it is you who provide the quality, and the compassionate mental health care — person to person bringing people to health,” Pelosi said.