May 8, 2018

Whitehouse-Portman Behavioral Health IT Bill Clears Senate

Bipartisan bill to help provide quality, coordinated care for Americans battling addiction and mental illness heads to House

Washington, DC – The Senate has passed the 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 was introduced in August by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rob Portman (R-OH), and 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.

“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,” said Whitehouse.  “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.”

“Senator Whitehouse continues to be a leading and important voice in the efforts to remove barriers and ensure parity in the use of technology for those dealing with issues around behavioral health, predominantly in the treatment of inpatients,” said Mary Marran, president and COO at Butler Hospital, part of the Care New England Health System. “It’s critical that we have the ability to communicate issues easily and effectively, particularly with primary care providers, and this bill goes a long way towards leveling the playing field and making sure those suffering from mental health issues are not treated differently than anyone else.”      

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.

Whitehouse and Portman’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.

This bill’s passage follows a string of legislative successes for Whitehouse during the 115th Congress, including:

  • $30 million for the National Ocean and Coastal Security Fund to support work that helps Americans understand and adapt to forces like sea level rise, severe storms, and other coastal hazards.
  • Bipartisan legislation to spur investment in next-generation carbon capture, utilization, and storage technologies, putting a dollar value on the reducing carbon pollution driving climate change.
  • Whitehouse’s legislation to extend permanently vital foreclosure protection for servicemembers, veterans, and their families.
  • $350 million to forgive student loan debt for teachers, first responders, social workers and others in public service, which was based on Whitehouse’s legislation to fix a glitch in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
  • Bipartisan legislation to increase collaboration between private industry, universities, and national laboratories in developing and bringing to market advanced nuclear technologies.
  • Bipartisan legislation reauthorizing the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, making important improvements to the way we treat young people in our criminal justice system.
  • Bipartisan legislation to address the marine debris epidemic affecting America’s oceans, shorelines, and inland waterways, as well as other coasts across the globe.

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