Legislation seeks to extend meaningful use incentives to mental, behavioral health community

By Molly Merrill
09:45 AM

Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy (D-RI) and Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA) introduced legislation Thursday to extend the incentives for the meaningful use of electronic health records to behavioral health and substance abuse providers.

The Health Information Technology Extension for Behavioral Health Services Act of 2010 seeks to include eligibility for Medicaid and Medicare incentive funds for the meaningful use of EHRs to behavioral health, mental health, and substance abuse treatment professionals and facilities that were not previously included as eligible in the HITECH Act, a component of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009.

"Delivering health IT to mental and behavioral providers bridges the care for those with mental and physical illness," said Murphy, a psychologist. "To best diagnose and treat patients, mental health professionals need complete, up-to-date medical histories. For instance, when depression is not treated, the costs of caring for a person with a chronic illness like heart disease can double. Electronic medical records ensure that physicians and mental health professionals are working together and delivering the best possible treatments. The Health Information Technology Extension for Behavioral Health Services Act keeps the 21st Century Healthcare Caucus's commitment to treating mental illness with the same vigor as physical ailments."

"[The legislation] acknowledges what was established with the passage of the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act – that we need to treat illnesses of the brain just as we would ailments of any other part of the body," added Kennedy.

The proposed amendment clarifies the definition "healthcare provider" to include behavioral and mental health professionals, substance abuse professionals, psychiatric hospitals, behavioral and mental health clinics and substance use treatment facilities. It also expands the Medicaid/Medicare incentives through the following:

  • Expands the types of providers that are eligible for the Medicare incentives for the "meaningful use" of EHRs to include licensed psychologists and clinical social workers. (Currently, behavioral healthcare provider organizations can qualify for Medicare and Medicaid incentive funds only through the current definition of eligible professionals, which includes physicians and nurse practitioners that are affiliated with their facilities. The typical behavioral health organization has a limited number of these professionals compared to psychologists and other clinical social workers.)
  • Expands Medicare hospital meaningful use incentive funding eligibility to include inpatient psychiatric hospitals;
  • Expands Medicaid hospital meaningful use incentive funding eligibility to include mental health treatment facilities, psychiatric hospitals and substance abuse treatment facilities;
  • Expands Medicaid provider meaningful use incentive funding eligibility to include behavioral and mental health professionals, and substance abuse treatment professionals.

"This proposed legislation corrects an oversight that excluded a major component of the healthcare system from critical funding that will help organizations accelerate their adoption of electronic health records," said James L. Conway, chief executive officer of Netsmart Technologies, a provider of enterprise-wide software and services for health care and human services organizations. "We're gratified that Rep. Kennedy and Rep. Murphy have introduced this legislation that recognizes the need to treat the entire person, including both primary and behavioral health, which many times are interrelated."

To read the full text of the Behavioral Health HITECH Amendment Act of 2010 click here.