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Rebecca Farley

Director, Policy & Advocacy, National Council for Behavioral Health

Behavioral Health IT Coordination Act Introduced

November 14, 2013 | Health Information Technology | Comments
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Efforts to extend health information technology payments to mental health and addiction providers advanced this week with the introduction of new legislation by Senator Rob Portman (R-OH). The Behavioral Health IT Coordination Act (S. 1685) would add psychiatric hospitals, mental health treatment facilities, and substance abuse treatment facilities to the types of entities that may receive incentive payments for meaningful use of electronic health records.

The incentive payments were instituted in 2009 in a bid to hasten U.S. health providers’ adoption of electronic records. Widely seen as the bedrock of coordinated care, electronic records are costly to implement and maintain. The incentive program has helped over 290,000 eligible providers and 3,800 eligible facilities begin using electronic records to store patients’ data, communicate with other providers involved in patients’ care, and engage in data measurement and quality monitoring efforts designed to improve outcomes and lower costs. Unfortunately, mental health and addiction treatment providers were left out of this incentive program, and fewer than 30% have successfully implemented full or partial EHR systems.

Senator Portman’s legislation builds on a strong base of congressional support for extending health IT incentives to behavioral health providers. Similar legislation (S. 1517) was introduced in the Senate earlier this year by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) with three cosponsors. The key difference between the Whitehouse and Portman versions of the bill is the offset: Senator Portman included a medical tort reform provision whose savings are expected to fully cover the cost of the expanded health IT incentive payments. Portman’s bill is identical to H.R. 2957, introduced in the House by Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA) with 30 bipartisan cosponsors.