Q&A with Dr. Debra Koss, Chair of the NJPA Council on Advocacy
As part of PRMS’ ongoing efforts to support the behavioral healthcare community and promote the organizations that work towards this mission, we are pleased to highlight our Platinum Partner, the New Jersey Psychiatric Association, and its advocacy efforts. We invited Dr. Debra Koss, MD, DFAACAP, DFAPA, clinical assistant professor with the Department of Psychiatry at Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Chair of the NJPA Council on Advocacy, to be our featured guest blogger this month. Dr. Koss shares more about NJPA’s advocacy victories and legislative goals.
What motivated you to run for the NJPA Council on Advocacy Chair role?
My experience as a child and adolescent psychiatrist motivated me to run for the New Jersey Psychiatric Association (NJPA) Council on Advocacy Chair. Too often patients described barriers to care that were the direct result of policies that were not informed by science or standards of care. For example, mental health parity violations and excessive utilization management practices on prior authorization, were a common concern. As a physician, I advocated on behalf of each individual patient, but I wasn’t able to create lasting change. When I learned that health care policies and regulations are often determined at the state level, I was motivated to get involved in legislative advocacy. I wanted to be sure that physicians had a seat at the table and an opportunity to inform policy discussions.
Which NJPA advocacy victory was the most rewarding and why?
It’s difficult to select just one victory but the victories we achieved throughout the pandemic have been especially meaningful. The NJPA remained steadfast in our advocacy efforts, swiftly responding to the public health emergency, while maintaining a focus on longstanding priorities. We provided leadership around telehealth expansion and were successful in achieving payment parity for behavioral health care services and access to audio-only technology. We joined with a coalition of stakeholders to support the expansion of the New Jersey Pediatric Psychiatry Collaborative recognizing this model as an effective way to respond to the national crisis in children’s mental health. And we also successfully advocated for funds in the 2023 fiscal year budget to expand our psychiatry residency training programs and child and adolescent psychiatry fellowships.
What would you like to share about NJPA’s advocacy efforts and the work that went into achieving these victories?
Advocacy is a team sport. At NJPA, we’re fortunate to have a team of individuals who are committed to mental health advocacy and share their expertise on behalf of all patients and psychiatrists in New Jersey. I’m grateful for the support of the NJPA Board of Trustees and the contributions of members serving on the Council on Advocacy and Expert Advisory Panel. I value the input of the Executive Director and Member Services Coordinator who maintain a connection with our grassroots membership, bringing their concerns forward, and help to launch advocacy campaigns including calls to action. I’m also grateful for the support of Advocacy & Management Group (AMG), the government affairs team that represents NJPA in Trenton and the American Psychiatric Association Department of Government Relations for their input. Finally, NJPA is also fortunate to have a strong working relationship with New Jersey elected officials and state agencies who serve as key mental health champions. Every voice truly matters!
What are NJPA’s advocacy goals for the 2023 legislative session (and beyond)?
NJPA will continue to advocate for policies and regulations that will support equitable access to quality mental health care for all patients. This will include a focus on mental health parity for mental health and substance use treatments, physician-led health care teams, and an expanded and diverse mental health workforce that reflects the diversity of our communities. We will also continue to advocate for evidence-based strategies that leverage our existing psychiatric workforce to provide timely access to care, including ongoing support for telehealth, collaborative care, and school-based mental health.
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