National Council for Mental Wellbeing

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Behavioral Health IT: The Foundation of Coordinated Care

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) appropriated over $19 billion for incentive payments to certain providers and health facilities to support the adoption and “meaningful use” of health information technology.

Unfortunately, many mental health and substance use professionals are not eligible to receive these incentive payments, and mental health and substance use treatment facilities only receive payments for the physicians and nurse practitioners that they employ. The Behavioral Health IT Act (S. 1517/ H.R. 2957) and Behavioral Health IT Coordination Act (S. 1685) would extend financial incentives for the meaningful use of electronic health records to specified mental health and addiction treatment providers and facilities.

Individuals with mental health and substance use conditions are in dire need of care coordination. A 2011 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration points to a strikingly high incidence of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and asthma among the more than 6 million Americans served by the public mental health and addiction treatment system.

Health IT is the bedrock of any effort to coordinate and integrate care for this population across all modalities of care. Yet, mental health and addiction providers face significant financial challenges in trying to adopt comprehensive EHR systems, and fewer than 30 percent have been able to implement full or partial EHR systems.

If behavioral health providers cannot adopt health IT at a rate comparable with primary care facilities, hospitals, and physicians, it will soon become impossible to provide clinical care coordination.

The National Council strongly supports congressional efforts to extend health IT incentive payments to mental health and addiction treatment providers. In addition to the Behavioral Health IT Act and Behavioral Health IT Coordination act, the Medicaid Information Technology to Enhance Community Health (MITECH) Act (S. 1286/H.R.2676) would make federal incentive payments for the use of health IT widely available to a variety of healthcare safety net providers, including community mental health and substance use centers.



Medicare and Medicaid administer separate “Meaningful Use” EHR incentive programs. These separate programs are administered with different timelines, reporting requirements and incentive limits. Both programs are phased over three stages with increasing requirements for demonstrating Meaningful Use in each stage. In order to receive payment, providers must meet thresholds at each stage and demonstrate meaningful use every year.

Currently, hospitals and certain healthcare professionals, such as physicians including psychiatrists are eligible to receive meaningful use incentive payments through the program. A majority of mental health and substance use providers were left out of the original eligibility list. Of the mental health and substance use community, only psychiatrists are currently considered eligible to participate, allowing them to earn incentive payments on behalf of their organizations. For those eligible providers, CMS has outlined the requirements and deadlines for becoming eligible in 2014.

For more information on how to participate in the meaningful use incentive program, visit the CMS website.



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