Physical & Mental Health

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APA is committed to achieving universal access to physical and mental health and substance use services. Health coverage is fundamental to reducing health disparities and promoting the just and equitable treatment of all segments of society.

Health for the Whole Person

Our bodies and brains are connected. Stress can take a toll on our physical health, while physical challenges can also bring new stress into our lives. APA advocates for policies that take into account how health and mental health are connected, and that give Americans access to quality heath and mental health care. We also share the message that psychologists have a role both in mental health care, but also in physical health, aiding in the prevention and treatment of illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. Psychologists can help modify unhealthy behaviors, such as poor diet, inadequate exercise and substance use.

Our Health Policy Focus

APA advocates for policies that support the health and well-being of all Americans, with focus on:
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Recent APA Advocacy on Physical & Mental Health

APA on the Senate Health Care Bill

APA CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, calls on the psychology community to oppose the Senate health care bill. He discusses psychology's priorities for federal health care policy and asks for your help in contacting Congress. 

APA is committed to achieving universal access to mental health and substance-use services at parity with physical health services. We are also committed to maintaining strong health insurance protections and reducing health disparities.

Please contact your senators to ask them to move forward, not backward, on health care reform, and to vote against any legislation that would undermine essential health benefit protections or result in Americans losing health coverage.

October 2017

Executive Order Will Destabilize Health Care System, APA Says

APA responded to the president’s executive order to allow trade associations and other groups to offer their own health plans, threatening to destabilize the Affordable Care Act markets. 

“Today, health plans are competing on how efficiently and effectively they provide care, but the president’s executive order, if carried out, would take us backward by letting plans once again compete on how few services they cover and ignore state health insurance protections," said APA President Antonio E. Puente, PhD, in the Oct. 13 statement. "We are deeply disappointed that the administration is continuing to try to dismantle our health care system, instead of trying to increase enrollment and stabilize insurance markets.”

September 2017

APA Urges Defeat of Latest Senate "Repeal and Replace" Bill

APA and APA Practice Organization expressed strong opposition to the Graham-Cassidy proposal to repeal and replace major portions of the current health insurance system, urging the Senate to reject the bill and resume bipartisan discussions of proposals to improve health care, stabilize the health insurance marketplaces, lower the cost of health care and extend coverage to more of the millions of Americans still without it. 

It is also critical that Congress not act until the bill, proposed by GOP Sens. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, has been scored by the Congressional Budget Office. The legislation is projected to reduce federal health care funding to states by more than $200 billion through 2026, replacing Medicaid expansion funding, premium tax credits and cost-sharing reduction payments with smaller block grants.

March 2017

Access to Health Resources and Care Is Key to LGBTQ Health, Coalition Partners Argue

APA joined with coalition partners in the sexual orientation and gender diversity community to sign a March 8, 2017, letter (PDF, 58KB) to congressional leaders. The letter expressed opposition to policies that would make it more difficult for patients to obtain sexual and reproductive health care and information from Planned Parenthood. The letter highlights that Planned Parenthood is particularly important to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) health, as LGBT individuals are less likely to be insured and are at higher risk for HIV and certain cancers. Moreover, discrimination and harassment faced by LGBT people within and outside of the medical system can have negative effects on mental and physical health.
February 2017

APA Supports Reintroduction of Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act

APA reiterated its support for the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act in February 2017. 

"The American Psychological Association wholeheartedly supports the FAMILY Act," said APA President Tony Puente, PhD. "Many Americans must care for newborns, elderly relatives or sick family members without pay. I speak from personal experience as my wife is disabled. Taking time off from work to care for family members can push lower-income Americans into poverty. Poverty, in turn, is associated with stress, depression and other harm to mental health. The ability to take maternity leave is associated with improved early childhood health and development. The health of our nation begins with the health of our families."

January 2017

APA and Partners Fight to Protect Investments in Prevention Funding

In a Jan. 9, 2017, letter (PDF, 73KB), APA joined over 200 organizations in urging congressional leaders, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Minority Leader Charles Schumer, Speaker Paul Ryan, and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, to protect the Prevention and Public Health Fund. The Prevention Fund is at risk of repeal as a part of the larger effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This fund provides federal dollars to be used towards services and public health activities such as cancer screenings, chronic disease prevention, epidemiology and laboratory capacity grants, and more. Eliminating these resources would leave a funding gap for essential public health programs supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and could also result in deep cuts for other critical federal programs.

December 2016

APA Applauds Senate Passage of Mental Health Provisions in 21st Century Cures Act

The 21st Century Cures Act, passed Wednesday by the Senate, will result in much-needed reform of the nation’s mental health system, according to a statement released by APA and the APA Practice Organization. The $6.3 billion legislation passed the Senate by a vote of 94-5. The House passed an almost identical version of the bill Dec. 1, by a vote of 392-26. President Obama signed the measure into law.

The bill includes provisions to strengthen the enforcement of mental health parity requirements by directing the Department of Health and Human Services to produce, in coordination with stakeholders, an action plan for improved federal and state coordination, and to issue new guidance to health plans to assist them in complying with existing requirements.

November 2016

Coalition Urges Congress to Prioritize Funding for Children’s Programs

Facing headwinds related to federal funds for domestic programs, the Children’s Budget Coalition (CBC), of which APA is a member, sent Nov. 14, 2016, letters to the House and Senate (PDF, 82KB) leaders outlining CBC priorities. Requests in the letter included: Finalizing federal fiscal year (FY) 2017, which began on Oct. 1, 2016, through a regular appropriations process; giving legislation to fund the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education the highest possible funding level; providing the highest possible funding level to children’s programs across spending bills; maintaining agreed-upon parity between defense and nondefense spending. 

Days after the coalition circulated its letter, majority leadership in the House and Senate announced they would extend current funding levels through March 31, 2017.

August 2016

APA Encourages Guidance to State Units on Aging to Prioritize Older Populations with Mental Illness and Sexual Minority Populations

APA submitted comments on Aug. 19, 2016, (PDF, 317KB) in response to the Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Community Living (ACL) program instruction. This proposed template would provide guidance regarding the obligation of State Units on Aging to target resources to older adult populations that have the “greatest economic and social need.” 

Specifically, APA’s comments advocated for assessing the needs of older populations with mental health concerns, substance disorders, and cognitive impairments, as well as those with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

July 2016

APA Submits Comments on Firearms Regulation that Unfairly Singles Out Social Security Recipients with Severe Mental Illness

On July 5, 2016, APA provided comments in a letter (PDF, 159KB) to the Social Security Administration (SSA) on the proposed regulation “Implementation of the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007” (Docket No. SSA-2016-0011). The regulation is SSA’s response to address a provision in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Improvement Amendments Act requiring inclusion of certain individuals in the system.

APA voiced concerns with the proposed regulation, noting that it unfairly singles out social security recipients with severe mental illness (SMI). Language included in this proposed regulation, such as “mental defective, subnormal intelligence,” runs the risk of stigmatizing individuals with a mental health diagnosis. Therefore, APA encouraged SSA to revise this language to be more scientific.
June 2016

APA, APA Practice Organization Back Mental Health Reform Bill Passed Out of House Committee

APA and the APA Practice Organization sent a June 14, 2016, letter (PDF, 94KB) to Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., D-N.J. — chairman and ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee — in support of the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015 (H.R. 2646). The bill aims to ease the burden on individuals with mental illness and their families.

The bipartisan bill, which passed out of the Energy and Commerce committee on June 15, 2016, aims to improve mental health care. Among other provisions, it notably:

  • Authorizes and increases funding for the Minority Fellowship Program, the only program for training ethnic minority and culturally competent providers.
  • Focuses on early intervention.
  • Supports suicide prevention.

APA continues to support mental health legislation in the House and Senate. Passing mental health reform legislation is a key priority for APA.

June 2016

Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act Supported by APA and Partners

APA joined with coalition partners to support the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act (S. 786/H.R. 1439) and the Healthy Families Act (S. 497/H.R. 932).  The FAMILY Act would provide workers up to 12 weeks of partial pay when taking time off to address their own serious health issue, including pregnancy or childbirth; to deal with the serious health issue of a family member; or to care for a new child.  The Healthy Families Act would ensure that workers can earn up to seven sick days each year; those days would be paid for workers at businesses with 15 or more employees.

APA urges the passage of legislation that does not force workers to choose between their health and financial stability, and that provides families paid time to take care of and bond with their newborns. 

May 2016

APA Staff Moderate Panels on Pregnant Women and Mothers in the Criminal Justice System

APA staff moderated two panel discussions at the “Bridging the Gap between Corrections, Health Care, and Community Resources” conference, hosted on May 6, 2016, by the College of William and Mary's Healthy Beginnings Project. Amalia Corby-Edwards facilitated a panel on "Community Resources for Reentry," and Micah Haskell-Hoehl facilitated another on "The Use of Restraints with Incarcerated Pregnant Women." The conference brought together practitioners from corrections, community groups, other government agencies, mental and behavioral health professionals, students and researchers. 

This activity builds on APA's recent involvement in advocating for gender-responsive justice (PDF, 162KB) and ending the use of restraints on incarcerated adolescents and women during pregnancy, labor, and postpartum recovery.

April 2016

APA Applauds Passage & Signing of the Older Americans Act

APA applauds the passage of the Older Americans Act (OAA) Reauthorization Act of 2016 (S.192) in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and President Obama’s decision to sign the reauthorization into law on April 19, 2016. The association has been a longtime proponent of OAA and sent action alerts encouraging APA members to contact their members of Congress and urge support for the bill’s passage. Additionally, APA joined more than 60 allied organizations in signing onto a letter of support (PDF, 84KB) calling for OAA’s reauthorization. 

In July 2015, OAA celebrated its 50th anniversary. As our nation’s foremost social services law for older adults, it provides funding for services and supports such as elder abuse protections, preventive health, family caregiver services, home-delivered and congregate meals, and in-home and transportation assistance. 

April 2016

APA Co-Signs Letter to Protect Provider-Patient Confidentiality

In an April 14, 2016, letter, APA joined with other medical and public health organizations to oppose the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA) of 2016. If enacted, PRENDA would require that medical and mental health professionals report “known or suspected” discrimination based on fetus sex or race, forcing providers to violate patient-provider confidentiality. Confidentiality that protects open and honest communication between providers and their patients is essential to proper decision-making in matters of reproductive health.

April 2016

APA Continues Advocacy for Mental Health Parity in TRICARE

APA continued its strong advocacy for parity in insurance coverage for mental health and substance use disorders (MHSUD) by providing April 1, 2016, comments (PDF, 380KB) to the Department of Defense (DOD) on a proposed regulation for MHSUD parity in DOD’s TRICARE program. TRICARE is the insurance program offered to families and dependents of active service members. TRICARE is not included in the 2008 Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act, so Congress acted to expand parity to those services via separate legislation. These new regulations would implement the law. In its comments, APA encouraged DOD to ensure that parity provisions were comprehensive. Also, DOD had excluded gender transition services from its health coverage and this regulation expanded certain services. APA called for full medically necessary transition services, going beyond the current proposed changes.

March 2016

APA and APA Practice Organization Continue Support of Mental Health Reform

APA and the APA Practice Organization sent a March 11, 2016, letter (PDF, 82KB) to Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., in support of new bipartisan Senate legislation, the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 (S. 2680), which aims to improve mental health services in America. The bill represents over two years of work by Senate members and staff to devise consensus provisions. It aims to expand preventive services, encourage integrated care and improve family engagement in treatment. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee subsequently approved the bill on March 16.

December 2015

APA Calls for Inclusion of Gender Dysphoria Treatment Under Medicare

On Dec. 31, 2015, APA responded (PDF, 261KB) to a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) request for comments to recommend that Medicare cover the treatment of gender dysphoria. In its comments, APA urged CMS to ensure that individuals receive the best possible care for gender dysphoria, including the full range of gender transition services across the life span. Gender dysphoria, as identified by the DSM-5, is a clinically significant and persistent distress or impairment caused by a marked difference between the individual’s expressed/experienced gender and the gender others would assign him or her.

December 2015

National Organizations Ask Feds to Address Use of Restraints on Incarcerated Pregnant Women and Adolescents

APA, in conjunction with five national partner organizations, released a statement calling on Congress and the Department of Justice (DOJ) (PDF, 367KB) to work with state and local governments to restrict the use of restraints on incarcerated women and girls during pregnancy, labor and postpartum recovery. 

Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia have laws or regulations restricting the practice. However, these policies vary widely in their scope and comprehensiveness. Furthermore, unofficial and news reports in states even with strong restrictions in place indicate that the practice continues with regularity. This situation illustrates the need for a stronger federal role in curtailing the practice. The joint statement proposes three specific federal policies: 

  • Data collection by DOJ on pregnancy and the use of restraints in jails and prisons. There is an alarming dearth of information on women's health in America's correctional facilities, and it is critical to capture a more accurate baseline and collect information regularly, to guide reform efforts.
  • Training and technical assistance by DOJ, to ensure successful implementation of efforts at the state and local level to restrict the use of restraints.
  • Continued leadership by the Bureau of Prisons, which can build on its existing policy restricting the use of restraints by reporting on lessons learned and supporting DOJ's training and technical assistance. 

The joint statement also calls for standardized pregnancy care by qualified professionals, evidence-based and trauma-informed care and mental health services, and other gender-responsive correctional policies and practices.

November 2015

APA Comments on NIH Plan to Advance Sexual and Gender Minorities Research

APA responded on Nov. 2, 2015, (PDF, 350KB) to a request for comments on the National Institute of Health (NIH) 2016-2020 Strategic Plan to Advance Research on the Health and Well-being of Sexual and Gender Minorities (SGM) (PDF, 2MB). The NIH SGM strategic plan addressed several previous APA recommendations and that the plan provides a thoughtful approach for advancing SGM research over the next five years. 

In the letter, APA urged NIH to clarify how priority research areas align with the 2011 IOM LGBT report (PDF, 930KB) and a recent NIH analysis of its SGM research portfolio. The following priorities were also identified: Strengthen partnerships with behavioral and social science research communities; increase investment in community based participatory research; fund more research through current funding opportunity announcements.

November 2015

APA Applauds Federal LGBT Health Data Collection Decision

The American Psychological Association joins other leading organizations in applauding the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for taking new steps to address disparities affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in health care by including sexual orientation and gender identity data in requirements for Electronic Health Records (EHRs). APA submitted comments to HHS in support of this decision. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (PDF, 2.9MB) and the Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology (PDF, 271MB) released the final rules in October 2015. Detailed patient level data for LGBT individuals, such as those found in EHR, can be used to track health outcomes of LGBT individuals, monitor the health status of this population, and evaluate interventions.

June 2015

APA and the APA Practice Organization Support Bill to Reform Mental Health System

APA and its affiliate APA Practice Organization sent a June 15, 2015, letter (PDF, 44KB) to Reps. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., and Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, in support of the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015 (H.R. 2646). The legislation includes a number of key APA priorities, including reauthorization of the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act  (P.L. 108-355) and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network and explicit authorization of the Minority Fellowship Program and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The joint letter also highlights the bill’s focus on incentives for behavioral health providers to adopt electronic health records, new federal research on mental health issues, and the need for full compliance with and enforcement of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008.

May 2015

APA Joins Other Providers to Oppose a Bill Intruding on Patient-Provider Relationship

On May 13, 2015, APA joined a broad coalition of advocates and national provider organizations to send letters to members of the U.S. House of Representatives opposing the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 36). APA and other health care providers seek to protect provider-patient relationships and support science-based perspectives on reproductive health. The bill passed the House but has not yet been taken up by the Senate. If passed, H.R. 36 would threaten providers with fines/imprisonment for providing professional and compassionate care to women seeking to terminate their pregnancies.

March 2015

APA Co-sponsors, Moderates Briefing on the Vital Role of Data to Prevent Injuries and Violence

APA worked with the American College of Preventive Medicine, SafeKids Worldwide, the National Association of County and City Health Officials and other members of the Injury and Violence Prevention Network to organize a Capitol Hill briefing on March 17, 2015. The event, moderated by APA staff, informed congressional staff about injury surveillance systems supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Grant Baldwin and James Mercy, directors of CDC's divisions of Unintentional Injury Prevention and Violence Prevention, respectively, presented, along with experts on the National Violent Death Reporting System, traumatic brain injury surveillance and prescription drug overdose monitoring. Presenters described the role of their agencies and organizations in collecting and sharing their data on a national scale. They also underscored the importance of funding surveillance systems to inform public health prevention efforts and health care service planning at the state and local levels.

April 2014

APA Advocates for Perinatal Depression Screening

APA submitted comments (PDF, 40KB) on April 23, 2014, to a government-led review of depression screening guidelines; in the comments, the association encouraged reviewers to design their research to allow adequate consideration of perinatal depression screening. This followed on the heels of a March 19 advocacy day PI-GRO organized for participants in the Leadership Institute for Women in Psychology. Participants attended advocacy visits to more than 40 congressional offices to discuss paycheck fairness and perinatal depression screening.

March 2014

Psychologist Delivers Congressional Testimony on Mental Health Systems Reform

Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, delivered testimony (PDF, 184KB) at a March 26, 2014, hearing before the U.S. House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. Chairman Tim Murphy, R-Pa., presided over the hearing, titled, “Where have all the patients gone? Examining the psychiatric bed shortage.” The hearing was organized by a member of Congress and practicing psychologist, Rep. Tim Murphy, PhD. 

Evans’s statement focused on several important areas, including that: Individuals recover successfully from even the most severe mental health and substance use disorders and the need to move away from a crisis-driven system to one that focuses on public health, prevention and early intervention.

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Ben Vonachen
Legislative Affairs Officer, APA Public Interest Government Relations


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APA represents the largest and most visible national presence advocating for psychology at the federal level. There are three APA government relations offices and two APA-affiliated organizations that engage in government relations activities. 

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