Feature

It's no surprise that changes to the U.S. health-care system in the last decade have spurred dramatic changes in the way psychologists practice.

"No longer can psychologists in the health-care system be concerned with only the clinical aspects of our work or with just the welfare of our patients," said Russ Newman, PhD, JD, APA's executive director for practice, at the Practice Directorate's Town Hall meeting at APA's 2002 Annual Convention in Chicago. "We must, simultaneously, be concerned with relevant federal and state laws, regulations, health policy, market forces, public opinion, and more recently, with new information technologies fast becoming an inevitable component of the health-care system."

This year's Practice Directorate Town Hall meeting updated members on APA's progress in influencing legislative, marketplace and other factors that are affecting psychologists. Participants also discussed new tools and technologies to help psychologists respond.

Among the topics of discussion:

  • Patient protections. Also known as managed-care accountability, and dubbed by Newman as "the lynchpin of real reform," patient protections remain an "uphill battle," he said. Both the House and Senate have passed bills that include the ability to sue negligent managed-care companies, but the bills are different. The Senate version doesn't put a cap on damages, the House version does--and resolution hasn't come yet. Though he added, "The fight is far from over." To underscore that message and his commitment to managed-care reform, Rep. Charlie Norwood (R- Ga.), a longtime ally and advocate for patient protections, said in a videotaped recording for attendees, "I'm not going away."

  • Mental health parity. Similarly, the battle for mental health parity, he said, is "no less difficult to accomplish than managed-care accountability, and no less necessary." In a videotaped presentation, Rep. Marge Roukema (R- N.J.) and Sen. Paul Wellstone (D- Minn.) commended the success of the grassroots parity movement, noting that the House bill has more than 200 sponsors. They both thanked psychologists for their hard work and urged them to continue fighting. "We've got to keep it up now," said Roukema.

  • Prescription privileges. Bolstered by the recent win in New Mexico, "the prescription privileges agenda is an evolutionary one, not a revolutionary one," said Newman. The groundwork for the movement began in 1984. Now, 13 states have introduced legislation and the New Mexico win may hopefully produce a domino effect. In another taped message, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D- Hawaii) encouraged psychologists to keep up the fight in every state. "When your profession obtains prescriptive authority, you will be an autonomous profession and your clients will be well served," he said. "Prescription privileges is a safe and effective way for states to provide a whole array of mental health services."

  • The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). "The real hope of HIPAA was to provide a central mechanism for reducing the administrative complexity and increasing the efficiency of the health-care system," Newman said. Whether it will accomplish that, "Only time will tell," Newman added. Attendees were reminded that the final compliance date for the HIPAA privacy rule is April 13.

  • "Aftermath: The Road to Resilience," a one-hour documentary that aired on Aug. 29 and Sept. 11, was co-produced by APA and the Discovery Health Channel and is part of a resilience education program that APA members can use in their communities. At the Town Hall meeting, Bob Reid, the Discovery Health Channel's senior vice president and general manager, shared a condensed version of the film with attendees. The companion grassroots outreach effort, also unveiled at convention, was kicked off on Sept. 9.

  • The Practice Organization's Portal, www.APAPractice.org. The comprehensive, interactive Web site, launched on Sept. 25, was the overarching message of the Town Hall meeting. The portal will provide HIPAA compliance tools and news and information tailored to members' specific needs and interests in psychology's legislative, business and legal arenas. It is practitioners' link to tools, trends and technologies in the field. Two members of the Practice Organization's portal development team, Norbert Scully, formerly of KPMG Consulting, and Elizabeth Bailey, of 2B Communications, provided attendees with a glimpse of the evolving portal. "APAPractice.org lives--it's not something that gets built and left," said Bailey.