Public Policy Update

Despite the tumult of the final days of the 106th Congress, several pieces of legislation of significance to psychology were passed by Congress and signed into law by the president. Among these were the Children's Health Act of 2000, the Older Americans Act Amendments of 2000 and the Minority Health and Health Disparities Research and Education Act of 2000. The successful advocacy campaign spearheaded by APA's Public Policy Office (PPO) to include behavioral research and training in this last piece of legislation is a story unto itself (see article, page 34.) A brief overview of key provisions of the first two laws is provided below.

Children's Health Act of 2000

This act contains provisions from 36 different bills. Of particular interest to psychology are the Youth Drug and Mental Health Services Act, the Mental Health Early Intervention, Treatment and Prevention Act and The Drug Addiction Treatment Act.

The Youth Drug and Mental Health Services Act extends the life of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and a number of vital mental health and substance abuse programs, including the mental health and substance abuse performance partnership block grants. The Mental Health Early Intervention, Treatment and Prevention Act provides grants for increased mental health services for at-risk children and adolescents.

The Drug Addiction Treatment Act, among its other provisions, expands access to drug treatment by enabling heroin-addicted individuals to obtain a new class of treatment medications in the privacy of a doctor's office. This bill also contains the Pediatric Research Initiative, which establishes a program within the Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health to conduct and support research on a number of health disorders in children.

Along with the surgeon general's recent landmark reports on mental health and suicide, this legislation represents a major step in a national effort to increase federal support for research and treatment of mental health and substance abuse disorders by psychologists and other mental health professionals. 

Older Americans Act Amendments of 2000

For the past five years, Congress has attempted to extend the programs within the Older Americans Act, a bill that provides funding to states to support critical services to elderly citizens. On Oct. 26, Congress did so, and on Nov. 13, President Clinton signed it into law.

PPO education policy staff worked closely with key members of Congress and their staff to ensure that this new law acknowledged the important relationship between mental health and quality of life for older persons. The inclusion of several amendments throughout this legislation marked a solid victory for psychologists with a keen interest in the provision of appropriate services for the elderly.

The success of PPO's effort in influencing legislation serves as a case study in effective, coordinated advocacy. Recommendations were developed and briefings were held early in the process to direct legislators' attention to the importance of mental and behavioral health interventions in addressing the needs of older persons.

Practitioner constituents worked with PPO staff to present effective case studies to key senators and representatives to convince them of the need for expanded training opportunities for psychologists specializing in services to the elderly. Education policy staff also garnered support from other organizations. Letters of support from APA members across the country were forwarded to their Washington representatives to encourage votes in favor of this legislation.

APA appropriately thanked and recognized the members of Congress and their staff who were responsive to their psychologist constituents. The result was a bill that helps to meet the mental health needs of seniors and acknowledges the vital contribution of psychology to improving their quality of life.

The new law also establishes a training and research grant program that will make funds available to institutions of higher education for training graduate level professionals specializing in the mental health needs of older individuals. The definition of "disease prevention and health promotion" is revised to include mental health considerations. Finally, the Health Care Services Demonstration Projects in Rural Areas Act requirescoordination with graduate education programs in psychology, among other critical fields serving older persons.

In the next issue, we will provide Part II of our federal funding wrap-up, as promised in December, assuming that pending fiscal year 2001 appropriations legislation is enacted by then.