Behavioral health IT bill passes Senate

WASHINGTON, D.C. –The U.S. Senate has passed its bipartisan Improving Access to Behavioral Health Information Technology Act to help behavioral health care providers – like psychologists and psychiatric hospitals – adopt electronic health records. The bill, introduced by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) last August, is cosponsored by Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). The legislation would authorize the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to provide incentives to adopt electronic health technology to behavioral health care providers, improving the coordination and quality of care for Americans with mental health, addiction and other behavioral health care needs.

“This common-sense bill would improve care for those receiving mental health and substance abuse treatment. And it would help bring our behavioral health system in line with physician health care by enabling the same incentives for substance use and behavioral health providers that other medical professionals have received,” Portman said.

“Electronic records help doctors and other providers make better decisions about their patients’ care. Americans who receive substance abuse and mental health treatment should benefit from that technology, too,” Whitehouse said. “This bill would test the use of electronic health records by mental health providers to care for patients who too often are left behind. I’m proud that our bipartisan bill has passed the Senate.”

Since 2011, the federal government has distributed $38 billion in incentive payments to health care providers to adopt electronic health records. However, psychologists, community mental health centers, psychiatric hospitals, and others that specialize in treating addiction and mental health conditions do not qualify for this funding. This has contributed to a substantial gap in the rates of adoption of health information technology between providers that qualify for federal incentives and those that do not, like behavioral health providers.

Portman and Whitehouse’s bill would authorize the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation to implement a demonstration program that provides incentive payments to behavioral health care providers for adopting and using electronic health records. The bill now goes to the House, where Congresswomen Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) and Doris Matsui (D-CA) have introduced companion legislation.