West Virginia psychologist licensure proposal creates uproar

By westvirginia on January 8, 2012
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By Steven Allen Adams | West Virginia Watchdog

CHARLESTON — Proposed licensure requirements for psychologists practicing in West Virginia have divided the state’s mental health community.

Supporters and opponents of the new licensing law filled the House Government Organization meeting room today. The Joint Standing Committee on Government Organization held a public hearing and opened the meeting up for comments.

The proposed law would give the title “Licensed Psychologist” to those with doctoral training, two years of post-doctoral experience, and would require the passing of a national psychological exam. The state only requires a master’s degree for psychology licensure.

The bill would grandfather in psychologists that don’t already have doctorates, but new psychologists would either need to get a doctorate, or they would fall into two other categories. The bill adds the category “Licensed Psychological Practitioner,” which would allow master’s-level psychologists but limit their scope of practice based on their experience. The bill also adds the category of “Certified Psychological Associate,” which also requires a master’s degree, but the individual would work under the supervision of a licensed psychologist.

“We are near or at the bottom in mental health care, and we need the very best in terms of professional services,” said David Blair, the immediate past president of the West Virginia Psychological Association (WVPA). “Maintaining the status quo makes us poorly prepared to help our veterans and Medicare patients, limits our ability to obtain federal training grants, and hinders our ability to expand the health care industry because we can’t engage with the health care changes that are happening today.”

Opponents of the bill say the it will prevent master’s-trained psychologists from being reimbursed by the federal government, will make it harder for patients to get psychological care in rural areas, and hurt psychological services in the state’s public schools.

“If this bill goes through, the bill for medical services as it’s currently constituted will not be able to provide the psychological practitioners with payment for services,” said psychologist Sheila Kelly. “They can ask the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to approve such a change, but there’s no guarantee that’s going to made, particularly in the current health care environment.”

“I’m very concerned if we eliminate master’s-level providers, we will affect the entire school system, the current Medicaid system, the current community mental health system, and the current services in rural areas,” she said.

The WVPA disputes these criticisms. In a fact sheet, the WVPA said they would work to ensure master’s-level psychologists get reimbursed. They also say the bill won’t hurt school psychologists and will provide more behavior health options for West Virginians.

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