Suncoast Mental Health Counselors Association

Legislative Update September 2020

  • Thursday, September 17, 2020 11:37 PM
    Message # 9244910
    AARON NORTON (Administrator)

    Federal Legislation

    On 9/9, the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA), our parent chapter on a national level, issued a call to action to all members to contact their legislators in support of HR 945, which would give counselors and marriage and family therapists Medicare billing privileges.  This is first time in U.S. history that a standalone bill for Medicare parity has been voted on by a legislative committee!  This is a bipartisan bill that successfully passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee.  Its companion bill in the Senate, S.286, is currently on hold as the Senate does not wish to take action until the bill has passed in the House.  This makes contact with your congressional representatives vital!


    State Legislation

    Florida's legislature is not yet in session, but our state-level parent chapter, the Florida Mental Health Counselors Association (FMHCA), has accepted the wise counsel of our lobbying firm, prepping for the upcoming session by focusing on issues that can be framed as related to the COVID-19 pandemic, as we anticipate that the bills most likely to succeed in the upcoming legislative session will relate to the pandemic.  

    The two issues we have selected for a bill include:

    1. Parity for clinical mental health counselors (CMHCs) in the forensic arena: F.S. 916.115 reads, "To the extent possible, the appointed experts shall have completed forensic evaluator training approved by the department, and each shall be a psychiatrist, licensed psychologist, or physician."  Implications: This statute does not list 491 Board licensees.  Consequently, some jurisdictions do not permit LMHCs, LMFTs, and LCSWs to be appointed to conduct evaluations for the courts, regardless of their individual levels of expertise and training.  Attorneys sometimes attempt to disqualify 491 board licensees for not being psychologists, and due process rights of inmates are sometimes violated with lengthy waits for a forensic evaluation due to a shortage of qualified psychologists/psychiatrists available to conduct such evaluations.   COVID-19 Connection:  Evaluations are even harder to conduct during the pandemic, with some jails restricting access by evaluators, and some evaluators no longer conducting in-person evaluations.  Currently, there are 12,262 LCSWs, 2,400 LMFTs, and 13,513 LMHCs in Florida, for a total of 28,175 491 Board licensees, whereas there are only 5,945 licensed psychologists.  Revising this statute to include 491 Board licensees remedy this problem.  Solution: Revise F.S. 916.115 to read "To the extent possible, the appointed experts shall have completed forensic evaluator training approved by the department, and each shall be a psychiatrist, mental health professional licensed under F.S. 490 or F.S. 491, or physician."  Note: The GRC already voted to make this issue a legislative priority in 2018 pending passive of a licensure portability plan, which has already occurred.  
    2. Register Interns in private practice settings and on-site supervision: F.S. 491.005(1)(c) indicates that for registered interns, "a licensed mental health professional must be on the premises when clinical services are provided by a registered intern in a private practice setting."  Implications and COVID-19 Connection:  Registered interns in private practice settings who are providing remote telehealth services are forced to choose between the ethical prerogative of not abandoning their clients as well as their own livelihood on one hand and adhering to social distancing precautions during a pandemic on the other, particularly in practices that are not currently providing in-person services (approximately half of practices in the State according to polling data collected by FMHCA).  Interns are already required to be under appropriate supervision when practicing, but supervisors can be access by phone, webcam, email, or means other than in-person contact.  Solution: Strike the following sentence from the statute: "A licensed mental health professional must be on the premises when clinical services are provided by a registered intern in a private practice setting."

    We believe we have identified some legislators who may be interested in taking up these causes and will keep you posted!

  • Friday, September 18, 2020 10:14 AM
    Reply # 9245809 on 9244910
    Delia Janice LaTorre (Administrator)

    Aaron, as always thank you very much for keeping us informed! Janice

  • Friday, September 18, 2020 11:15 AM
    Reply # 9245953 on 9244910
    JAY SCHRADER (Administrator)

    Thanks Aaron.  

Suncoast Mental Health Counselors Association is a 501(c)6 non-profit organization.
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Suncoast Mental Health Counselors Association
P.O. Box 110002 
Bradenton, FL 34211

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