Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

Building a National Presence: The National Council's Chair Lays out Some Policy Areas the Association Has Been Following Lately

Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

Building a National Presence: The National Council's Chair Lays out Some Policy Areas the Association Has Been Following Lately

Article excerpt

During the past few years, the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare has increased its national presence to position itself to better influence federal policy and legislation. It's an effort for which Elizabeth Earls, chair of the National Council's Board of Directors since July, is proud to be a part.

"It has been a love and real dream that our national organization would be in a better place to help set policy for us nationally," says Earls, who is also president and CEO of the Rhode Island Council of Community Mental Health Organizations, Inc. "I'm struck every month by how different it is from where we were just a few years ago."

One area the National Council is following closely is federal parity legislation, which would affect private insurance plans. Although the lion's share of people served by National Council members rely on public financing to pay for their care, Earls points out that many National Council members also serve a significant number of privately insured clients. And she says that there's more to this legislation than the words written into law. "The legislation itself, the symbolism of it, the fight and the continued push against the stigma are so important and really have always been at the core of my belief of why we need national parity legislation," Earls says.

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Earls has been working closely with fellow Rhode Islander U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy to ensure that a parity bill reaches President Bush's desk. Kennedy is a cosponsor of the House version, but the National Council has not endorsed either chamber's bill. "I don't know if there is value in putting up barriers in the beginning by taking a side," Earls says. "I think we need to continue to be at the table with policy makers so that they understand as they make their decisions what the impact will be." She adds, "Some of the other national organizations already have shown greater favor for one version or the other, and that closes down discussion."

Another area on the National Council's radar are the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' (CMS) new rules for case management services under Medicaid, which Earls says are "far more extensive and invasive than states anticipated. …

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