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Shelley Starkey

House Passes Behavioral Health Information Technology Bill

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A bipartisan bill that would incentivize behavioral health providers to adopt electronic health records (EHRs) passed the House on Tuesday, following passage of a similar bill by the Senate last month. The Improving Access to Behavioral Health Information Technology Act (H.R. 3331), a long-standing National Council priority, would incentivize behavioral health providers to incorporate electronic health records (EHRs) into their practices. The House and Senate versions of the bill must now be reconciled before moving to the President’s desk for his signature.

EHRs provide a digital record of a patient’s chart, and can be more easily shared among all clinicians involved in that patient’s care. Behavioral health providers have adopted EHRs more slowly than physical health providers as they have traditionally not had the resources needed to implement the technology. Since 2009, the National Council has fought for a solution to this problem by shepherding the introduction and advancement of legislation (including the Improving Access to Behavioral Health Information Technology Act) that would give mental health and addiction treatment providers the necessary resources to adopt EHRs. Further, the National Council led the formation of the Behavioral Health Information Technology (BH IT) Coalition, a group that has played a key role in raising the issue’s profile on Capitol Hill. The House and Senate’s passage of behavioral health information technology legislation represents a huge victory for the National Council and its members.

On the House floor, Representative Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) explained why this measure has become increasingly important. “Our nation finds itself in a mental health and opioid crisis, and Congress must do all it can to ensure providers have the tools they need to effectively treat their patients,” she said. “By utilizing electronic health records, they can better coordinate care, support delivery of treatment, and help to fully integrate recovery and prevention services for all Americans.”

The Improving Access to Behavioral Health Information Technology Act would help to improve the coordination of care and behavioral health integration into physical health settings by tasking the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) with creating a demonstration project to incentivize the use of EHR systems in mental health and addiction treatment settings. Providers and settings that would be included in these incentives are: clinical psychologists and clinical social workers at psychiatric hospitals, community mental health centers, residential or outpatient mental health treatment facilities and addiction treatment facilities. The major difference between two versions of the bill is that the House version was amended to add psychiatric nurse practitioners to the list of eligible providers that would qualify for the demonstration.

The National Council thanks Representatives Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) and Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rob Portman (R-OH) for their work on this important legislation.