Improving Medicare Coverage of Psychological Services for Older Americans

Journal Article
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Professional psychology's ability to meet older Americans' psychological needs and to simultaneously thrive as a profession will be closely tied to the federal Medicare program over the coming decades. Despite legislative changes in the 1980s providing professional autonomy to psychologists and expanding coverage for mental health services, Medicare coverage policies, reimbursement mechanisms, and organizational traditions continue to limit older Americans' access to psychological services.

This article describes how psychologists can influence Medicare coverage policy. Specifically, the authors examine widely unrecognized policy processes and recent political developments and analyze the recent creation of a new Medicare counseling benefit, applying J. W. Kingdon's (1995) well-known model of policy change. These recent developments offer new opportunities for expanding Medicare coverage of psychological services, particularly in the areas of prevention, screening, and early intervention. The article provides an analysis to guide psychologists in engaging in strategic advocacy and incorporating psychological prevention and early intervention services into Medicare. As Medicare policy entrepreneurs, psychologists can improve the well-being of millions of Americans who rely on the national health insurance program and, in so doing, can help shape the future practice of psychology.

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