Perspective on Practice

As you read this column, more than 500 of our practice colleagues from across this country are preparing to gather on March 12 in Washington, D.C., for our 28th annual State Leadership Conference (SLC). Sponsored by APA and the APA Practice Organization (APAPO), the SLC is the largest annual gathering of psychologists for leadership and advocacy training involving the profession’s present and future leaders.

Since our 2010 SLC, President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law. In addition, for most health plans, the mental health and substance use disorder parity rule took effect on Jan. 1. By law, private health plans for more than 50 employees that include mental health and substance abuse benefits must provide coverage for these benefits that is at least equal to coverage for physical health benefits.

Yet the United States still faces the daunting challenge of delivering quality behavioral health care in a difficult economy to an increasingly diverse citizenry within a system that is still very fragmented, chronically underfunded and reaches far too few people in need. Fixing our broken health-care system requires continued courageous and innovative leadership. Effective advocacy and strong associations to support professional psychology require a steady stream of leaders.

As SLC has evolved, we have paid particular attention to issues of diversity and to engaging students and early career psychologists. In the past decade, our SLC diversity initiative has produced at least eight state, provincial and territorial association presidents. Again, we will fully fund a cadre of diversity delegates and early career psychologists to attend the conference.

To set the tone for our theme of “Building a Leadership Culture,” this year’s opening session will feature Dr. David Satcher, former surgeon general of the United States and founder and director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute in Atlanta. Dr. Satcher will speak about leadership in an evolving health-care system focused on efficiency and accountability, and psychologists’ roles as leaders in addressing health disparities.

The more than two dozen program sessions during the 2011 SLC span a broad range of topics such as telehealth, reimbursement, clinical treatment guidelines, prescriptive authority, sequence of training, innovative practice models, advocacy mentoring and pro bono program opportunities for serving our military and their families.

I am particularly excited about a plenary session sponsored by the Council of State, Provincial, and Territorial Psychological Associations on “The Future of Behavioral Health Care — Perspectives from Industry.” This will be a landmark gathering of psychology leaders with several major stakeholders in mental health care who affect the design of insurance plans, the kinds of plans that employers purchase, the providers included in plan networks and reimbursement rates.

Plenary panelists include Jane Kline, president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and three psychologists: Dr. Andy Sekel, CEO of United Behavioral Health; Dr. Ron Finch, vice president of the National Business Group on Health, a major voice of the employer community; and Dr. Arthur Evans, former commissioner of mental health in Connecticut and current administrator of a large public sector behavioral health program. We are looking forward to a frank and informative exchange between stakeholder group representatives and psychology leaders.

The conference culminates in hundreds of visits to members of Congress and their staff about issues important to our patients and professional practice. The relationships our leaders build with members of Congress and their staff serve as the foundation for APAPO’s biggest legislative advocacy successes.

Many leaders who attend SLC tell us that it energizes them to advocate for the profession and those who need our services. As in years past, we expect the 2011 SLC will spark numerous efforts at the national and state level on behalf of professional psychology.