March 15, 2011

Whitehouse Introduces Legislation to Improve Mental Health Care

Bill Would Expand Use of Electronic Records for Mental Health Providers

Washington, DC –U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has introduced legislation to ensure that health information technology is available to behavioral health, mental health, and substance abuse treatment professionals and facilities.  Whitehouse, who strongly advocated for the investments in health IT made by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, applauded that law’s impact in expanding the use of health IT but called for further efforts to include these important fields in the expansion.

“Mental health care is a critical component of our health care safety net, and allowing these providers access to cost-saving, quality-enhancing advances in health information technology will improve the care that millions of American receive,” said Whitehouse.  “By expanding the use of electronic health records, my legislation will give mental health professionals access to comprehensive and up to date medical histories, enhancing the precision of diagnoses and reducing medication errors.”

The Behavioral Health Information Technology Act of 2011 (S. 539) will:

  • Expand the types of providers eligible for Medicare and Medicaid incentives for the use of electronic health records to include licensed psychologists and clinical social workers;
  • Expand Medicare hospital incentive funding eligibility to include inpatient psychiatric hospitals;
  • Expand Medicaid hospital meaningful use incentive funding eligibility to include community mental health centers, mental health treatment facilities, psychiatric hospitals and substance abuse treatment facilities; and
  • Clarify eligibility of community mental health centers, psychiatric hospitals, behavioral and mental health professionals, substance abuse professionals, mental health treatment facilities, and substance abuse treatment facilities for technical assistance from Regional HIT Extension Centers.

Whitehouse has been a national leader on the implementation of HIT.  Two years ago, he spearheaded the effort to create HIT regional extension centers to provide information and technical assistance to doctors who implement this new technology.  He was also a lead advocate for the creation of the “Beacon Communities” program which was established as part of the Recovery Act’s overall $18 billion federal investment in HIT.  This program will establish a series of fully operable HIT “communities” around the country – including one in Rhode Island – to serve as models for the rest of the nation.

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