March 16, 2016

Whitehouse Introduces Bill to Help Behavioral Health Care Providers Adopt Electronic Health Records

Washington, DC – Today, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced legislation to support the integration of behavioral health care providers—like psychologists and psychiatric hospitals—into our national health information technology infrastructure, helping to ensure that patients in our mental health care system receive coordinated, quality care.

Medicare and Medicaid have distributed nearly $32 billion in incentives for the adoption of electronic health records since 2009.  However, psychologists, community mental health centers, psychiatric hospitals, and others that specialize in treating mental health conditions do not currently qualify for those incentive programs.  This has contributed to a substantial gap in the rates of adoption of health information technology between behavioral health providers and other providers that do qualify for federal electronic health records programs.

Whitehouse’s Integrating Behavioral Health Through Technology Act would establish a pilot program in five states to provide incentive payments to behavioral health providers that adopt electronic health records, with priority going to states like Rhode Island that have local health information exchanges. 

“Up-to-date information is just as important to mental health providers as it is throughout our health care system.  Electronic health records arm providers with the best information available when treating their patients, and federal incentive programs have helped drive their adoption,” said Whitehouse.  “This bill would begin to bring behavioral health care providers on par with other providers, which could not only improve care, but lower costs.  It will also bolster local health information exchanges—like Rhode Island’s CurrentCare—that help providers with electronic health records to share information with one another.”

The pilot program would run for up to five years and be overseen by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) at the Department of Health and Human Services.  After completion of the pilot, SAMHSA would be required to report to Congress on the results of the program and make recommendations for increasing behavioral health providers’ adoption of EHR technology.

“As part of the national focus to achieve parity in treatment access for behavioral health patients, this bill is an important step,” said Dr. James Sullivan, senior vice president and chief medical officer at Butler Hospital in Providence, RI. “Senator Whitehouse has long understood the inclusion of incentives for behavioral health providers adopting or upgrading EHR technology is an important equalizer, providing the ability to quickly and easily collaborate with primary care and other providers and, most significantly, contributing to the overall well-being of patients.” 

“It’s extremely important that the benefits of provider adoption of health IT and information exchange are made available to those struggling with behavioral health issues,” said Laura Adams, President & CEO of the Rhode Island Quality Institute.  “These pilots will be instrumental in informing a more comprehensive strategy which assures that those with behavioral health needs are not kept at a disadvantage in an increasingly technology-enabled system of care.”


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