As the US government works feverishly to pass a $1.7 trillion spending bill before current funding runs out, MFTs and Counselors appear poised for a major policy victory. If the bill passes, the services of MFTs and Counselors would become eligible for Medicare reimbursement as of January 1, 2024. [Update: The bill passed, and was signed by President Biden.]
The Washington Post has coverage of the bill itself as well as its development. If you scroll to page 3,723 (not a typo) of the actual 4,155-page bill, you’ll see section 4121, which begins “Coverage of Marriage and Family Therapist Services and Mental Health Counselor Services under Part B of the Medicare program.” That’s the relevant language, carried over from a standalone bill that had previously gathered almost 100 House co-sponsors. CNN has more information about other spending that is in the bill, as well as some proposed spending that didn’t make the cut.
Assuming the bill passes, of course not all MFTs and Counselors will choose to work with Medicare. Those who do will be paid at 75% of the set rates for Psychologists. But Medicare inclusion has been so highly prioritized because of the other doors it is likely to unlock. Medicare is considered something of a bellwether program, meaning that other federal programs look to Medicare guidelines when determining what providers to include in their own services.
Speaking to the value of Medicare inclusion for the professions, it’s something that they’ve been pursuing for more than three decades. In that time, they’ve often spoken of the need to have more mental health service providers available to address key areas of need, including rural populations and opiate addiction.
In order for the bill to become law, it will need to pass both the House and the Senate and then receive President Biden’s signature. The House and Senate have until Friday to pass the bill before current funding runs out, although they have the option of passing a short-term funding resolution if they need to buy time to address any hiccups with the larger bill. At present, the bill seems likely, although not guaranteed, to pass.