Greetings from your Society lobbyists! The 2018 legislative session is about to start and will be what is called a “short” session (two months instead of the alternative-year four month, “long” sessions). Most work will be to ‘kick the can’ down to next year’s session. Here are the biggest issues that will affect clinical social work practice:
1. Volk Decision -- We hope to pursue guidance and or training from the state to clarify the duties and obligations of mental health providers as a result of the Volk decision; this took most of our energy last year and is still an ongoing discussion. The UW Law School Volk Survey Report was issued on December 1, 2017, and while it supported many of our concerns about the increased responsibilities of clinicians, there is no guarantee that the legislature will agree with the Report’s conclusions. Nonetheless, we will be working hard to find a way to limit what appears to be an increased duty to warn.
2. Ban Conversion ‘Therapy’ – Conversion ‘therapy’ is actually a position with religious roots that sees LGBTQ people as mentally ill and in need of ‘therapy’ to become mentally healthy. About 10 states have banned the use of conversion ‘therapy’, most commonly provided by clergy members, because it has caused so much emotional harm. We hope to see Washington become the next state to ban it, a more likely prospect, since the Senate became Democratic last month.
3. Medicaid Reimbursement – We all know how impossibly low the reimbursement rate is for mental health services under Medicaid. The group most hurt by the lack of clinical services is children. A bill is being dropped* to increase reimbursement rates for work with children, including coverage for any children with eating disorders. This bill will also stop the rise of pre-authorizations for mental health services for children, which have again become a problem.
4. Children’s Mental Health Work Group – In addition to the issues in #3 above, this Group will look at ways to preserve the rights of adolescents to confidentiality in mental health treatment, if they want it, while giving parents some information about their adolescent’s treatment. This long-fought battle is still a difficult balancing act. The Society will provide comments on this issue.
5. Medicaid Mental Health Funding – Related to #3 above, this bill will be an effort to support increasing mental health provider reimbursement rates, especially for at-risk adults. Prevention would be the primary goal.
Melanie Smith, our lead lobbyist in Olympia, and I will be working primarily on these issues at this point; more may arise as the session progresses. We will be in close communication with Julia Kocian, LSWAIC, the Society Legislative Chair, and look forward to continuing to share information and updates.
* Note: In the House, bills are introduced when they are dropped in the hopper, a wooden box on the House floor.