Bill proposes expanding MU incentives

Senator seeks to fix 'an oversight in the system.'
By Erin McCann
10:57 AM
Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH)

Currently, mental health providers are not eligible to receive federal electronic health record incentive payments under the meaningful use program. One U.S. Senator, however, is working to change that. 

Ohio Republican Rob Portman recently proposed legislation, the Behavioral Health Information Technology Coordination Act, to ensure mental health providers are part of the nation's EHR network. The bill would add mental health professionals to legislation passed in 2009 to assist healthcare providers in adopting health information technology systems. 

[See also: Federal EHR payouts hit record heights.]

"Due to a disconnect between our nation's doctors and mental healthcare professionals, Americans suffering from mental illness are among the nation’s most underserved and overlooked populations," said Portman, in a Nov. 20 press statement. "By fixing an oversight in the system and making health IT the bedrock to fully integrated care, my bill will enhance care and treatment for the mentally ill and put them on a path to lead healthy and productive lives."

One group happy with the proposed legislation was the Ohio Council of Behavioral Health & Family Services Providers, a state trade association representing more than 160 mental health organizations. 

We're "very excited" about the bill, said Hubert Wirtz, chief executive officer of the association, in a press statement applauding the bill. "Adequate investment in healthcare information technology is critical to enabling mental health and addiction providers to implement systems that help them improve care coordination, provide quality care, measure outcomes and enable continuity of care between primary care, mental health and addiction services."

He added that, "Without this, community behavioral health providers cannot adequately track outcomes, engage in wellness management, and engage in cost-effective chronic disease prevention and recovery."

[See also: Mostashari: No cap on EHR incentive payouts.]

Portman's bill, however, was referred to a congressional committee Nov. 12 and will most likely fail to reach a vote.

Providers currently eligible for the Medicare EHR incentive payments under HITECH Act's meaningful use program include medical doctors, doctors of osteopathy, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists and chiropractors. Under the Medicaid EHR Incentive Program, nurse practitioners, certain physician assistants and nurse midwives also qualify.