Payroll tax law will cut mental health services

Medicare recipients receiving mental health outpatient services stand to be negatively affected by the payroll tax legislation passed by Congress, psychologists say. As a result of the new law, which President Obama is expected to sign, payment for Medicare outpatient psychotherapy services will be cut by five percent beginning March 1.

“Some of the most vulnerable in our country will be affected by this law,” says Katherine C. Nordal, executive director for the American Psychological Association Practice organization. “These cuts will impact funding not only for psychotherapy outpatient services, but to community behavioral health centers, state hospitals and private hospitals with mental and behavioral health units.”

Medicare Part B covers outpatient services for mental health diagnosis and treatment as well as therapy services for in-patients at state and private hospitals. Medicare covers services provided by psychologists and other Medicare approved providers.

The American Psychological Association estimated 3,080 psychologists who once participated in Medicare have left the program, and the new cuts might result in more psychologists leaving Medicare because of the low reimbursement rates.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services slashed Medicare psychotherapy payment rates as part of its Five-Year Review in 2006. Since that time, four laws restoring five percent of the payment for psychotherapy services have been passed. At the end of 2011, Congress extended the payroll tax cut for two months through February 2012 and included payment for psychotherapy services.

“We have an enormous Medicare population in this country,” Nordal says. We cannot afford to lose qualified, licensed mental and behavioral health Medicare providers. A loss of providers will negatively impact patient care and recovery.”

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