Branstad bill would reduce insurance coverage for mental health care

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:

Attention Providers!

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: 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

Phone: 515-281-5211

For more information on how you can get involved in IMHCA’s legislative efforts, click on ‘Events’, or send an email to and let us know you would like to help!


Kacey M. Peterson, MS, LMHC

IMHCA President-Elect

Help stop HSB 138 before it is too late!

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  • Agree.

    This was posted on another site and sums up my mind.
    “So, after reading this piece of legislature, I don’t really understand where your fear of your parents losing their jobs comes from? The state of Iowa is using this to try and save money by not having to perform as many regulatory functions. The jobs that this legislation affects are not going to disappear.

    Sure, the removal of regulations makes these markets more open and competitive, but unless the work a respiratory therapist does is incredibly simple, I can’t see how experienced professionals would be adversely affected. No medical professional is going to recommend a patient to someone who they don’t believe provides at least adequate services.

    Also, if this passes, it doesn’t go into effect until 2019, and a lot can change in just a couple of years.”

  • Robot Leaders

    Oh, what a wonderfully thought out and intelligent way to sound like a complete idiot, whom obviously has no idea the up most importance of mental health care for those who suffer from mental illness. Of course, lets make things more complicated and more expensive for those who NEED it the most. What a brilliant plan Mr. Branstad!! I mean, really? Have you no clue or compassion for people who suffer from such illnesses that are as REAL as cancer, as REAL as diabetes, as REAL as the worst flu you ever had to endure…as REAL as any medical disease or illness diagnosed by a licenced Doctor of internal medicine with a PHD. Shame on you Mr. Branstad for being our governor whom does not acknowledge people who suffer from mental illness as important as any other person suffering from a medical illness. Shame on you for letting the people follow a leader who does not lead us at all in what is right, what is good, what is best for ALL of us but, takes the easy way out and leads us astray, confused and abandoned while you turn your cheek, and lay in your bed of fine sheets and warm expensive quilts filled with down. Lay your head on your fluffy satin pillow and go to sleep just to wake the next day to start on the next thing your told to do, like a shiny robot you have no heart. Your to protect us but instead the very opposite, you make the very decisions to ruin us… while we sleep like zombies believing your here to make things better, you smile and wave… Sign this and that… Sign this… Sign that.. Oh yes, you are a beautiful governor Mr. Branstad. But, unfortunately more than just beauty from a far, the people need a REAL leader, with compassion, love, an undying passion to fight for us, not against us. FIGHT for good. To die before giving into the evil. That’s what wrong with this country, there are not enough leaders who fight for us with their heart, their whole heart. Bravery Peaceful. Integrity. Mighty. Leader. I will not apologize, for what I believe. Elmo from sesame street could do a better job being our governor, than you Mr. Branstad. If you are smart enough to pick up that this particular subject hits home for me… Than I’m genuinely surprised… For robots, LIKE YOURSELF in tailored suits with pretty ties, and gold watches sitting at there lovely big fancy carved wooden desks rarely detect emotion from us humans.

    You posted that as a separate diary. I think you meant to