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Statement from Linda Rosenberg, President & CEO: Important Win with Recent Behavioral Health IT Legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 21, 2018) — Bipartisan legislation passed by the House last week and Senate last month that would incentivize behavioral health providers to adopt electronic health records (EHRs) is a huge victory for our industry. We have been working for passage of this legislation since 2009, when behavioral health was left out of a law that created financial incentives for providers and hospitals to implement EHR systems to improve patient care. But the real winners are the individuals we serve – people with mental illnesses, addictions and physical health challenges for whom care coordination is sometimes a matter of life and death.

Widespread use of EHRs improves care for individuals and reduces health care costs. The Improving Access to Behavioral Health Information Technology Act (S. 1732/H.R. 3331) would task the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) with creating a demonstration project to incentivize the adoption and use of certified EHR technology by mental health and addiction treatment organizations to “improve the quality and coordination of care through the electronic documentation and exchange of health information systems.”

Typically, behavioral health providers have been slow to adopt EHRs because they have been starved for funds. This legislation will test incentive payments to address adoption and the sharing of population health data, to reduce duplicative treatments and provide lifesaving information to providers.

“For decades, behavioral health and substance use treatment providers have received significantly lower levels of funding and reimbursement rates than their primary/acute care counterparts,” said Kevin Scalia, executive vice president of Netsmart, a founding member – with the National Council – of the Behavioral Health Information Technology (BHIT) Coalition. “The substantial increase in demand for services generated by the opioid crisis has driven this resource issue to new levels. This pilot program would give assistance to some providers and is a step forward to providing whole-person care to the nearly 70 percent of persons with mental illness and co-occurring physical illness such as heart disease, asthma or diabetes.”

Providers and settings that would be included in the CMMI demonstration 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 House version also includes psychiatric nurse practitioners. The House and Senate versions must now be reconciled before heading to the president’s desk for his signature.

The National Council thanks Reps. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) and Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) as well as Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) for their work on this important legislation.

And we thank each and every one of you. For nearly a decade, you wrote letters, made phone calls and met with your congressional representatives and senators in person to tell them that we can’t improve health care quality and costs and increase patient satisfaction unless behavioral health is an integral part of health care. This win is a victory for all Americans who need and deserve access to comprehensive, coordinated, evidence-based care for mental illnesses and addictions.

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The National Council for Behavioral Health is the unifying voice of America’s health care organizations that deliver mental health and addictions treatment and services. Together with our 2,900 member organizations serving over 10 million adults, children and families living with mental illnesses and addictions, the National Council is committed to all Americans having access to comprehensive, high-quality care that affords every opportunity for recovery. The National Council introduced Mental Health First Aid USA and more than 1 million Americans have been trained.

©2018 National Council for Behavioral Health. All Rights Reserved.