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Bipartisan Bills Introduced to Incentivize Adoption of Electronic Health Records by Behavioral Health Providers


PG Alert

August 10, 2017

By Robin Canowitz and Liam Gruzs*

Last week, Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced a bill in the Senate intended to encourage behavioral health care providers to adopt electronic health record (EHR) technology. If passed, the Improving Access to Behavioral Health Information Technology Act would create a demonstration project to provide financial incentives for adoption of EHR technology by behavioral health providers.

The use of EHR technology is generally touted as helping to increase quality of care, as it will allow behavioral health providers to better monitor patient outcomes, communicate with other providers, and better coordinate services. However, behavioral health providers—including psychiatric hospitals, community behavioral health centers, and substance use treatment facilities—have not been eligible for previous EHR technology incentive programs.

Beginning in 2011, the federal government has distributed more than $37 billion in incentive payments through the Medicare and Medicaid Meaningful Use programs to certain health care providers to adopt certified EHR technology. The objectives of Meaningful Use were to use certified EHR technology to: (1) improve clinical outcomes; (2) improve population health outcomes; (3) increase transparency and efficiency; (4) empower individuals; and (5) develop more robust research data on health systems. However, the legislation that provided for those incentive payments did not provide funding for most behavioral health and substance use disorder providers. Many believe that the lack of incentives has led to delays in EHR technology adoption among the behavioral health care provider community since many providers simply do not have the necessary resources to purchase and operate these systems.

The legislation would not expand the Meaningful Use program. Unlike the Meaningful Use program, this latest attempt to encourage the use and adoption of EHR by behavioral health providers adds an incentive and demonstration program to the duties of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI). CMMI was established to test innovative payment and service delivery models to reduce expenses of the Medicare and Medicaid programs. If this legislation passes, CMMI will develop a model to test based upon input from stakeholders, experts, and relevant federal agencies. CMMI will then solicit and select organizations to test its model through a competitive bid-type process.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, co-sponsor of the bill stated in a press release:

Good care for people fighting addiction or mental illness takes up-to-date information on a patient, just like any other kind of care . . . Right now, federal incentives to adopt electronic health records and better coordinate care don’t go to most behavioral health providers. This bill would help fix that, helping the behavioral health community connect better with physical health doctors to get better results for patients. 

Companion legislation had been previously introduced in the House by Representatives Lynn Jenkins (R- KS), and Doris Matsui (D-CA). The Behavioral Health Task Force (BHTF) will continue to monitor this legislation and provide relevant updates as they become available.

*We would like to thank Robin L. Canowitz and J. Liam Gruzs (Vorys Sater Seymour and Pease LLP, Columbus, OH) for authoring this Alert. We also would like to thank Suzanne J. Scrutton (Vorys Sater Seymour and Pease LLP, Columbus, OH) for reviewing this Alert.

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