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Shelley Starkey

Policy Assistant

House Bill Would Create Behavioral Health EHR Demonstration Program

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Bipartisan legislation to encourage behavioral health providers to adopt electronic health records (EHR) was introduced in the House last week. Reps. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) and Doris Matsui (D-CA) introduced their bill, H.R. 3331, which would task the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) with creating a demonstration project to incentivize the use of these EHR systems in various settings, including mental health and addiction treatment organizations.

CMMI’s purpose is to test models intended to make health care delivery more efficient and support patient-centered practices by reducing costs and improving care. H.R. 3331 would add the EHR incentive program for behavioral health providers to CMMI’s list of models to test. Providers and settings that would be included in these incentives include clinical psychologists and clinical social workers at psychiatric hospitals, community mental health centers, residential or outpatient mental health treatment facilities, and substance abuse treatment facilities.

“By encouraging the use of electronic health record technology by behavioral health providers, we can improve care coordination and behavioral health integration,” said Representative Matsui. “That helps ensure patients receive the treatment they need in the right place at the right time.” Representative Jenkins agreed that, “This commonsense, bipartisan legislation will help update our nation’s mental health care and put it on the same playing field as physical health care.”

This bill is modeled after previous legislation, although it utilizes new mechanisms to achieve its end goal. The National Council has worked tirelessly to expand this EHR incentive program to behavioral health providers since its creation in 2009 as a part of the Health Information Technology and Economic Clinical Health (HITECH) Act.

In 2013, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced legislation to expand the program outright, making funds available to all formerly excluded providers, including those in behavioral health settings. Following that bill’s failure to pass in the 113th Congress, Senator Whitehouse introduced legislation for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to establish a pilot program in just five states. That bill also failed to get through Congress, but these unfortunate setbacks have not deterred champions from pursuing progress on this front.

The National Council thanks Representatives Jenkins and Matsui for their leadership on this important issue and looks forward to supporting the legislation through Congress.