Governor Terry Branstad has introduced a bill that would make Iowa the only state not to license mental health counselors. House Study Bill 138 would remove licensing requirements for a number of professions and eliminate some state boards, including the Board of Behavioral Sciences and the Board of Social Work. Mental health counselors are expressing alarm about language that would make social workers, marriage or family counselors, and mental health counselors "registered" rather than "licensed."
The likely consequence would be insurance companies refusing to cover services by unlicensed providers, depriving Iowans of access to therapy unless they are able to pay the full cost of mental health counseling out of pocket.
I enclose below an action alert the Iowa Mental Health Counselors Association posted yesterday, which contains talking points to use when communicating with state lawmakers about House Study Bill 138. The bill has been assigned to a subcommittee of Republican State Representatives Bobby Kaufmann and Dawn Pettengill and Democratic State Representative Mary Mascher.
The lobbyist for the association representing mental health counselors said yesterday, "The bill as drafted will not be having a subcommittee next week and is taking on serious water. The speaker’s office said that [House Speaker Linda Upmeyer's] members are getting more emails on the licensure provisions of that bill than they did on collective bargaining." According to one rumor, the bill may be revised and reintroduced next week, so concerned citizens should call the governor's office (515-281-5211) to share their views with Branstad's staff.
UPDATE: A Facebook commenter reached Kaufmann, chair of the subcommittee, by phone on February 24: "He said this bill was assigned to him, he thinks it's a bad bill and he's going to kill it."
SECOND UPDATE: On a different Facebook thread, someone reported speaking to House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow about this bill, having run into him while shopping. Hagenow indicated House Study Bill 138 would not advance in its current form.
Multiple sources confirmed on Friday that lawmakers have been bombarded with constituent contacts about this legislation. When the governor's staff introduce a new and improved version of this proposal, I would guess they will leave licensing of mental health care professionals alone.
According to Claire Celsi, Hagenow announced at a February 25 legislative forum in Clive that the governor is wrong on this bill and that lawmakers do not support it.
February 23 action alert from the Iowa Mental Health Counselors Association:
Your license to practice is currently under attack!
The Iowa Mental Health Counselors Association (IMHCA) has issued a call to action in opposition of HSB 138, a House Study Bill proposed by Governor Branstad that would take away a protection for Iowans as well as put Iowa last in the nation by removing licensure for the profession and eliminating the Board of Behavioral Sciences and the Board of Social Work.
Below are several talking points for you to refer back on as you join IMHCA in reaching out to lawmakers and expressing your concerns for HSB 138.
• Mental Health Counselors are licensed, not registered, in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia. This provides us with the right to practice. One of the many challenges that professionals would face under this bill is the ability to move from this state to another without a license, and still be allowed to practice. Removing licensure would undoubtedly prevent the providers impacted by this bill from getting licensed in other states.
• Insurance companies and employers have requirements that mental health professionals are licensed. Tricare and the VA require Mental Health Counselors to be licensed at the highest level in their state. Getting rid of licensure will reduce the number of practitioners eligible to serve our veterans and other Iowans.
• Iowa already suffers from a shortage of mental health professionals. It is imperative that we continue to ensure access to qualified mental health professionals, including Licensed Mental Health Counselors, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, and Licensed Master’s and Independent Social Workers.
• Regulatory boards, such as the Board of Behavioral Science and Board of Social Work, have the primary goal of ensuring protection of the public through setting and enforcing rules related to education, ongoing training, and upholding ethical standards. Numerous complaints are made annually regarding concerns from vulnerable Iowans about potential ethical violations ranging from professionals breaking trust by betraying confidentiality, taking advantage of someone financially, lying about claims, to having sexual relationships with clients. Licensure boards provide accountability for the profession as well as protection by ensuring those who commit violations are not able to practice or get additional training to demonstrate improvement.
IMHCA is urging you to contact Governor Branstad, Lt. Governor Reynolds, House leaders and your local legislators and ask them to carefully consider the ramifications of this study bill. Demand that they continue to keep Mental Health Counselors, Marriage and Family Therapists, and Social Workers licensed under their respective boards.
Go to: https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislators/find if you are unsure who is serving your legislative interests on the hill. Contact information may be found on each legislator’s office site. To contact the Governor’s office, please use the following information:
1007 East Grand Ave.
Des Moines, Iowa 50319
For more information on how you can get involved in IMHCA’s legislative efforts, click on ‘Events’, or send an email to email@example.com and let us know you would like to help!
Kacey M. Peterson, MS, LMHC
DO NOT DELAY!
Help stop HSB 138 before it is too late!