Advocacy is an important function in today’s society. Those that speak the loudest and/or make the largest donations are able to affect important governmental changes. Psychologists play an important role in advocacy because we not only advocate for our profession, but we advocate for the mental health needs of our patients and improvements in society at large. We are fortunate to have an advocacy structure set up for us.
APA has the Practice Organization (known as APAPO) which advocates for psychologists and the people we provide services to. Among the many issues that APAPO might advocate is: improved mental health care, increased funding for mental health care, improvements to insurance that facilitate access to mental health care, advocating the inclusion of psychologists (and good mental health care) into healthcare initiatives (Affordable care act), parity, changing Medicare law to facilitate psychological services/access and much more.
In order for advocacy to be effective, it is imperative that many psychologists, at the grass-roots level, be involved in sending messages to legislators. APA has a system in place that makes it easy for every psychologist to advocate.
Every state, territory and district of the United States has a psychologist designated as the Federal Advocacy Coordinator (FAC). I am the Wisconsin FAC. In the FAC role, I represent both APA and WPA and have a variety of responsibilities. First, through a data base provided by APA, I send out action and information alerts to Wisconsin psychologists. The alerts are written by APA and then sent out to the FACs for distribution. You are in the data base if you are a member of APAPO or have previously used the APA (Capwiz) political action portal.
I encourage you to write to your legislators, at the very minimum, when you receive an action alert. This is the cornerstone of grass-roots advocacy and it really does make a difference. When a message avalanche hits the hill, legislators and their offices take notice. APA makes it easy by putting a clickable button in the action alert that will take you directly to the advocacy portal. Enter your zip code to identify your specific federal legislators and then send emails. APA provides a sample letter for you to use; you can edit the letter any way you wish or send it as written. Even if you disagree with the APA stance on an issue, I encourage you to make your voice heard and write what you think the legislator should do to address the issue.
A second FAC responsibility is to attend the annual Practice Leadership Conference in March. The conference provides several days of workshops on cutting edge issues related to the practice of psychology and health care in general. We also receive advocacy training. On the last day of the conference, we go to Capitol hill in Washington D.C. We meet with as many Wisconsin legislators as possible while the other FAC’s meet with their respective legislators. We essentially blanket the hill advocating the specific agenda delineated by APA.
This year we advocated to include psychologists in the “physician definition” under Medicare law. We are the only doctoral level providers, licensed to work independently in our states, that are not included under this definition. Chiropractors, dentists, podiatrists and optometrists are included under the physician definition. This is important because many Medicare initiatives have been tied to providers that fall under “physician” such as funding to develop electronic health records, use of E & M codes and the ability to be independent in all places of service under all insurances. Currently, it is required that psychologists have an MD sign off in some places of service for our work with Medicare fee for service beneficiaries. In contrast, MD sign off is not required when the patient has commercial insurance, Medicaid or Medicare advantage plans. We also advocated to keep mental health services included in Medicaid and other health plans as congress continues to address the affordable care act and Medicaid.
A third responsibility for FAC’s is to meet with, write to or in other ways be active with legislators when they come to their Wisconsin districts. I go to town hall meetings, listen to Facebook town hall meetings and write to the legislators and their aides.
Finally, the FAC brings this information back to you via education at annual conference, newsletter articles and this blog. I also communicate with Wisconsin psychologists who have questions about action alerts.
At times, this is a huge responsibility (i.e. when major changes in health care bills are being voted on), but it is rewarding and important work. I am proud of the role I play in affecting change at the governmental level. Perseverance and patience are required because change does not occur quickly. For many years in a row we go to the hill with virtually the same agenda items. Over time, you witness a slow, but important change occurring and then suddenly, or so it seems, the advocated change occurs!
If you have any questions or suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for all the help you have given me over the years by contacting your legislators! Keep it up, we are making progress.
Dori Ann Bischmann, PhD
Federal Advocacy Coordinator
APA and WPA
Capwiz: an online advocacy program developed by Capitol Advantage that allows users to send advocacy messages and alerts to members. APAPO is a member of Capwiz and utilizes this system to send alerts to psychologists.