Healthcare was a prominent issue, probably the most prominent issue, for voters. A November 2 Gallup Poll found that 80 percent of respondents said healthcare would be extremely or very important in their vote for Congress this year, followed by the economy and immigration at 78 percent. Coverage for preexisting conditions, and the fate of the Affordable Care Act which ensures that coverage, were widely discussed.
With Democrats now controlling the House there is no real chance that the Affordable Care Act will be repealed. If anything, a package of changes that would stabilize and improve it might get to the President’s desk now because there was already support for it in the Senate and the House may follow suit.
House Democrats also have new oversight powers to investigate actions taken by the Administration. It seems likely that they will look at steps taken to weaken the Affordable Care Act by withholding payments to insurers, reducing efforts to promote enrollment, and creating alternatives such as association health plans and short term insurance plans that now can last up to three years. These steps have collectively caused concern among insurers about the long term viability of the program, driven up premiums, and provided consumers with new insurance options that do not provide coverage for mental health care.
ACA’s Medicare Reimbursement Legislation
The House and Senate champions for the American Counseling Association’s bill to allow Medicare reimbursement for counseling were all reelected. They are Senator Barrasso (R-WY), Senator Stabenow (D-MI), Congressman Katko (R-NY), and Congressman Thompson (D-CA). ACA’s government affairs team will meet with them soon to have the House and Senate bills reintroduced as soon as possible and to look for a legislative path to enactment in the new Congress.
Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah passed ballot measures expanding Medicaid enrollment to about 300,000 people. New Hampshire and Michigan are more likely to approve Medicaid expansion because of changes in the state legislatures and governorships there. Expanding Medicaid will allow licensed professional counselors to be reimbursed for their work with Medicaid-eligible low income patients.
The Opioid Issue
The opioid epidemic received a lot of attention from candidates, especially in rural areas. An NPR poll found that in these areas drug addiction including opioids was considered the biggest problem facing communities, ahead of even economic concerns (25 percent to 21 percent). Congress just passed a package of steps to address it (including a student loan forgiveness program) but there are more ideas being discussed in Congress and many people agree that more funding is needed.
State issues such as bans on conversion therapy for minors should see more success in states because of the elections. For example, the Maine legislature passed a ban this year but the Governor vetoed it. He has been replaced by a new governor, Janet Mills, who said on Twitter that “Conversion therapy is a reprehensible practice that has no medical merit, is fundamentally wrong, and serves no other purpose than to tell people they should feel ashamed of who they are.”
The landscape in Washington changed on November 6. Keep reading the Government Affairs blog to stay up to date on how the new Congress will impact counselors.”