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First-hand social work experience informs Senator’s social work legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), a trained social worker, last night introduced two social work bills, the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act (S. 686), and the Clinical Social Work Medicare Equity Act of 2009 (S. 687). These bills address the nationwide shortage of social workers and ensure clinical social workers are properly reimbursed under Medicare for the mental health services they provide.

The nation is facing unprecedented levels of social service and health care needs, while at the same time facing a shortage of social workers to address them.  Approximately 30,000 licensed social workers specialize in gerontology today but it is estimated that 60,000 to 70,000 who specialize in gerontology will be needed by 2010. The Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act will review current social workforce shortage challenges and determine how it will affect the communities served by social workers.

Social workers support physical, psychological and social needs. They provide mental health therapy, caregiver and family counseling, health education, program coordination, and case management. 

“We must have the workforce in place to make sure that our returning soldiers have access to mental health services, our elderly maintain their independence in the communities they live in, and abused children are placed in safe homes.  In these tough economic times social workers can play a critical role in keeping communities together and helping individuals and families cope with the new stresses they are facing,” Senator Mikulski said.  

The Social Work Reinvestment Act makes investments in the social work profession by:

•           Establishing grant programs to address workplace improvements, research, education and training, and community-based programs of excellence.

•           Creating a commission to study services provided by social workers, recruitment, retention and compensation, safety, and state-level licensing reciprocity.

•           Opening a National Coordination Center to work with education, advocacy and research institutions, as well as gather and distribute information on social work research.

•           Urging the Senate to recognize March as Social Work Awareness Month.

•           Creating a media campaign promoting social work.


The Clinical Social Work Medicare Equity Act of 2009, also introduced by Senator Mikulski, and  cosponsored by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), will ensure clinical social workers receive Medicare reimbursements for the mental health services they provide in skilled nursing facilities. The legislation will allow clinical social workers to bill Medicare directly for the mental health services they provide to nursing home residents. Under the current system, psychologists and psychiatrists, who provide similar counseling, are able to separately bill Medicare for their services, but social workers cannot.


“Clinical social workers are the primary providers of mental health care to the residents of nursing facilities,” Senator Mikulski said. “Health care is not just about pills and paperwork, it is about the people who make a difference in the everyday lives of their patients. This bill is about equal access to Medicare payments for the equal and important work done by clinical social workers. It is about providing our seniors with high quality, affordable mental health care.”


“We need to prevent inequities in our health care system, especially those that reduce the quality of care. Without skilled clinical social workers, many nursing home residents may never get the counseling they need when faced with a life threatening illness or the loss of a loved one. This legislation will make sure that does not happen,” Senator Mikulski added.


Approximately 20 percent of the elderly suffer from mental disorders. Among nursing home residents, the prevalence of mental disorders is as high as 80 percent. These mental disorders, which include severe depression and debilitating anxiety, interfere with the person’s ability to carry out activities of daily living and adversely affect their quality of life. Social workers are trained and licensed to provide mental health diagnostic and treatment services. They are often the only providers of mental health care for seniors that live in rural and underserved areas.


“As a social worker, I have been on the frontlines of helping people cope with issues in their everyday lives.  I started off fighting for abused children, making sure they were placed in safe homes.  Today I am a social worker with power.  I am proud to continue to fight every day for the long range needs of the nation on the floor of the United States Senate and as Chairwoman of the Aging Subcommittee of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee,” concluded Senator Mikulski, who earned her master’s degree in social work from the University of Maryland School of Social Work. 

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