OAMFT is part of the Coalition of Oregon Professional Associations for Counseling and Therapy (COPACT). Below is the 2017 session ending recap and letter.
By Larry Connor, MA, LPC, Government Relations Chair, COPACT
As I write this, the 2017 Oregon Legislative Session has ended, having tackled a broad range of issues touching mental health care. COPACT kept a close eye on all of them, evaluating 74 bills that would impact our practices, our agencies, and our clients. There were bills relating to CCOs; hospitals and mental health emergencies; firearms and the mentally ill; housing for the mentally ill; telehealth; social work in schools; public employee health care; forensic evaluations; sex offender treatment and nearly everything in between.
To ensure that the voices of LPCs and LMFTs were heard, COPACT board members…
- Made personal contact through one-on-one meetings with legislators at the Capitol;
- Worked closely with our lobbyist Elizabeth Remley and her assistant Rachael Emory —our ongoing professional team in the Capitol;
- Met weekly to discuss issues, strategy and tactics.
Among the many issues we worked on, here are some highlights that most impact the work of professional counselors and marriage and family therapists:
Protecting the rights of LPCs and LMFTs to provide specific types of therapy:
This session, Art Therapists and Sex Offender Therapists sought to create practice Acts—defined standards and requirements to do their specific types of work. We think that’s a good thing. However, in their original forms, these bills failed to exempt licensed mental health providers (like us!), which could have prevented LMFTs and LPCs from providing those services. COPACT successfully got the bill amended (no small task), ensuring that LPCs and LMFTs can still choose to provide services to sex offenders, and can continue to use art as part of our work with clients.
Safeguarding flexibility in CEUs, and fighting against unnecessary mandates:
Senate Bill 48 had good intentions—to increase provider training in suicide prevention. However, the bill originally would have required LPCs and LMFTs to take recurring CEUs in both suicide prevention and pain management. We at COPACT believe that mental health professionals should have the freedom and flexibility to take CEUs that will best support our specific areas of client work. COPACT fought hard on this one, defending our professional autonomy. As a result, the requirement for pain management CEUs was tabled, and suicide prevention trainings will be recommended rather than required.
Fighting for fairer reimbursement rates:
This is huge, and could be the beginning of the end of 20 years of steady reductions in mental health reimbursement rates in Oregon! A joint effort of COPACT, the Oregon Independent Mental Health Professionals, the National Association of Social Workers-Oregon Chapter, and the Oregon Psychological Association—Senate Bill 860 requires the Department of Consumer and Business Services to examine mental health reimbursement cuts as potential violations of Oregon Parity Law. The bill has been signed into law by the Governor. COPACT has been working for this kind of legislation for the past seven years, and we plan to be involved in the implementation process in Salem.
Improving client access to mental health prescriptions:
COPACT supported a bill allowing Psychologists with advanced training and supervision to prescribe certain medications. House Bill 3355 passed both chambers but was vetoed by Governor Brown. COPACT supported the bill so that our clients could get easier access to prescribers, which is especially important in rural areas where prescribers can be few and far between. This is the second time this kind of bill has passed the legislature and then has been vetoed by the Governor. We are not sure if there will be more efforts in this direction.
Protecting small clinics and private practitioners:
Because this session had to deal with a state revenue shortfall of $1.4 billion, much discussion took place around how the state could raise more revenue. COPACT kept a very close eye on these discussions. There was a time when it looked like all health care providers—regardless of size or scale—would pay a special tax to help cover the cost of the Oregon Health Plan. That was modified so that only hospitals, large clinics, and health insurers will pay the tax.
Standing up against harmful insurance practices:
When Regence created a new policy that would have increased out-of-pocket costs for our clients insured there (by applying the cost of intake sessions to the deductible, rather than covering those sessions via co-pay), COPACT got involved. We immediately used the ORCA listserv as a rapid-response tool, encouraging all ORCA members to contact Regence and oppose the change. Several weeks later, Regence issued a retraction of that policy, which we believe should mean intake sessions are again covered by co-pay. However, if that turns out not to be the case, please let COPACT know immediately though the ORCA listserv or by contacting OAMFT!
All in all, this was a very active legislative session for COPACT. We extend our deep appreciation to our talented lobbying team Elizabeth and Rachael, who serve our profession exceptionally. COPACT’s hardworking members (during the 2017 session) include: Chad Ernest LPC, Jeff Olsgaard LPC, Andrea J. Wright Johnston LMFT, Steve Rodgers LMFT & LPC, Wendy Curtis LPC, Libby Schwartz LPC Intern, and Larry Conner LPC.
Please join us in standing up for our profession by making a donation today by making sure your memberships in ORCA and/or OAMFT are up to date, and by encouraging your colleagues who are not yet members to join our professional associations.
And remember—you don’t need any special training to be part of this work. If you care about our profession and want to make your voice heard, COPACT welcomes you. Just contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are all in this together!