The Behavioral Health IT (BHIT) Coalition has written a letter to the U.S. Senate Committee for Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) encouraging Congress to authorize a pilot program providing financial incentives for mental health and addictions providers to obtain electronic health records (EHRs).
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) is the author of the pilot, which builds on the Improving Health Information Technology Act (S. 2511) that the HELP Committee recently approved with a strong bipartisan vote. According to the letter, “The BHIT Coalition believes that the meaningful use program needs major legislative reforms encompassing improved interoperability, better EHR usability, and enhanced transparency including the star rating system authorized in S. 2511. At the same time, meaningful use reform efforts cannot be completed without providing HIT incentive payments to frontline acute care behavioral health providers.”
Leaving psychiatric hospitals, community mental health centers, psychologists, social workers and substance use treatment facilities out of the HITECH [Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health] Act was a fundamental policy error, the letter asserts. “A mountain of evidence now shows that behavioral health conditions are both costly and deadly…. Simply put, in the modern digital medical era, these providers cannot communicate with—and cannot coordinate care with—hospitals, physicians, cardiologists, endocrinologists, and nephrologists without EHRs,” it reads.
Currently, behavioral health provider organizations can qualify for meaningful use incentive funds only through the current definition of eligible professionals, which includes physicians and some nurse practitioners that are affiliated with their facilities. The typical behavioral health organization has a limited number of these professionals compared to psychologists and licensed social workers.
The letter concludes, “The Whitehouse amendment represents a critically important step towards both enhanced care coordination for highly vulnerable Americans as well integrating behavioral health care with primary care and specialty medicine. We urge you to include the Whitehouse proposal in any mental health and opioid legislation that emerges from the Senate HELP Committee.”
The Whitehouse bill proposes a $250,000,000 budget through 2022 but doesn’t offer any suggestions on how that money will be provided. The Senate HELP Committee is scheduled to decide on this proposal during a hearing on March 16.