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Michael Petruzzelli

, National Council for Mental Wellbeing

New Bill Expands EHR Incentives to Behavioral Health Providers

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On Thursday, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced legislation that would expand federal electronic health record incentive payments to include a number of behavioral health providers. The bill – the Integrating Behavioral Health through Technology Act (S. 2691) – would establish a pilot program in five states, providing financial incentives for the adoption and use of interoperable electronic health records. This legislation is based on earlier National Council-supported legislation to expand incentives to include all providers.

“Up-to-date information is just as important to mental health providers as it is throughout our health care system.  Electronic health records arm providers with the best information available when treating their patients, and federal incentive programs have helped drive their adoption,” said Senator Whitehouse.  “This bill would begin to bring behavioral health care providers on par with other providers, which could not only improve care, but lower costs.  It will also bolster local health information exchanges that help providers with electronic health records to share information with one another.”

The pilot program would authorize the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to make available up to $250 million in grants to five states to fund the adoption and use of electronic health records among behavioral health providers. Selection of the five states would come down to a number of criteria, most notably, a local and interoperable health information exchange. The program is working to expand and improve upon the Meaningful Use program, positioning behavioral health providers to succeed in a technology driven age.

The National Council has worked relentlessly to expand the electronic health records incentive program – also called Meaningful Use –since its creation as a part of the Health Information Technology and Economic Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009. The HITECH Act excluded a number of providers from participating including mental health and addictions organizations. In 2013, Senators Whitehouse and Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced legislation to expand the program outright, making funds available to all formerly excluded providers. However, it was deemed too expensive and thus was never considered or approved by the Senate.