Cautious optimism about behavioral HIT bill

By Larry McClain, Contributing Writer
12:42 PM

WASHINGTON – Because Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) is viewed as one of the Senate’s most knowledgeable healthcare advocates, analysts are guardedly optimistic about the prospects for the Whitehouse-sponsored Behavioral Health Information Technology Act S.539, which would extend meaningful use incentives to behavioral healthcare providers.
“S.539 is still awaiting action after being referred to the Senate Finance Committee,” said Seth Larson, Whitehouse’s press secretary.
“The official explanation of why behavioral healthcare was left out of the original HITECH legislation was that they just couldn’t afford it,” said Dennis Morrison, CEO of Centerstone Research Institute, the research wing of not-for-profit Centerstone, which provides behavioral healthcare services at 120 facilities in Tennessee and Indiana. “But why was psychiatry omitted and not cardiology or pediatrics? It’s just another example of behavioral healthcare’s second-class status both at the personal and policy level.”
“If there’s no interoperability between behavioral healthcare and general healthcare, costs will continue to skyrocket,” he added. He cited a European study on the misdiagnosis of panic disorder. Patients were sent to emergency rooms, endocrinologists and other specialists – and the costs were staggering. But when behavioral healthcare providers accurately diagnosed the patients, expenses dropped dramatically.
“I think S.539 has a shot at being passed for two reasons,” said Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies (as well as founding director of the Center for Technology Innovation) at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. “First, it provides important improvements to the healthcare system. And secondly, Senator Whitehouse’s colleagues have a great deal of respect for him. He’s viewed as one of the Senate’s leading authorities on healthcare issues.”
“Senator Whitehouse is courageously urging his colleagues to take a longer view on this issue,” said Morrison. “Otherwise, it will be another example of being penny-wise and pound-foolish on healthcare spending.”