Bill seeks to extend MU incentives to mental, behavioral health providers

A new Senate bill seeks to establish a federal financial incentive program to boost EHR adoption among mental and behavioral health providers.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) proposed a pilot program that would essentially extend the meaningful use program to include mental health providers. The proposed pilot would establish a program in five states where eligible professionals and eligible behavioral health facilities would receive incentive payments to adopt and use certified EHR technology. The pilot would last five years.

The Behavioral Health Information Technology Coalition, a group of organizations seeking to advance public policy for technology as it benefits patients with mental health and addiction disorders, wrote to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in support of Sen. Whitehouse's proposal.

"Leaving psychiatric hospitals, community mental health centers, psychologists, social workers and substance use treatment facilities out of the HITECH Act was a fundamental policy error," according to the letter. "Mental illnesses and conditions like opioid addiction and alcoholism complicate the management of medical/surgical chronic disease in Medicare and Medicaid recipients."

The coalition says there is bipartisan support to improve care coordination between mental health providers and primary care providers, and in the digital era, communication and care coordination between providers is nearly impossible without EHRs.

"The Whitehouse amendment represents a critically important step towards both enhanced care coordination for highly vulnerable Americans as well [as] integrating behavioral health care with primary care and specialty medicine," according to the letter.

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