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Will advocates final push to fix EHR incentives be enough?

November 24, 2010
by Dennis Grantham, Senior Editor
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Advocates ask that industry’s voice be heard as they seek to attach behavioral health EHR incentives fix to yearend legislation

Since April, behavioral health advocates have pressed Congress for passage of The Health Information Technology Extension for Behavioral Health Services Act of 2010 (HR 5040/S 3709), a bill introduced by Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) to correct exclusions in the original ARRA legislation that excluded many behavioral healthcare providers and organizations from participating in incentives intended to spur the adoption and "meaningful use" of electronic health record technology.

The "corrective" legislation proposed by Kennedy, and since supported by 84 House co-sponsors and 13 sponsors/co-sponsors in the Senate, would amend the original legislation to expand the list of providers eligible to qualify for EHR meaningful use incentives beyond physicians and nurse practitioners to include behavioral health professionals such as clinical psychologists and licensed clinical social workers. It would also expand the list of institutions eligible for EHR meaningful use incentives beyond acute care hospitals to add psychiatric hospitals and residential behavioral health/addiction treatment centers.

Passage of the measure would make it considerably easier for behavioral healthcare providers and organizations to adopt and use EHRs in the near future, a critical component of national health reform.

According to attorney Kyle Gilster, senior counsel for governmental affairs at Husch Blackwell and an industry lobbyist, the bill needs a final push to be considered and passed before yearend in Congress’ lame-duck session.

He says that this push will be made by attaching the entire bill (or its key provisions) to a “Medicare Extenders package” which will be introduced for consideration soon, or to “related bills which may be moving through the House or Senate by year end.”

As always, such a legislative effort “a moving target,” Gilster explains. To strengthen the industry’s push for consideration and passage of the EHR incentives changes before the end of the lame duck session, Gilster provides a listing of key legislative/talking points below, as well as a listing of current House and Senate sponsors for the measure. If you are interested in adding your voice to the debate, now is the time to act, say he and other advocates.

Summary Points: Health Information Technology Extension for Behavioral Health Services Act of 2010

• On April 15, 2010, Rep. Kennedy (D-RI) introduced the Health Information Technology Extension for Behavioral Health Services Act of 2010 (H.R. 5040). This legislation currently has 84 bipartisan cosponsors. There is a blend of both Democrat and Republican cosponsors. This legislation was referred to both the House Energy and Commerce and House Ways and Means Committee.

• On August 5, 2010, Senator Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the Health Information Technology Extension for Behavioral Health Services Act of 2010 on the Senate side. This legislation currently has 12 bipartisan cosponsors. This legislation was referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

• In 2008, Congress approved the Mental Health Parity Act. Unfortunately, mental health services were not given parity treatment in the provisions of the HITECH Act, a component of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009.

• As the law currently stands, many mental health treatment agencies are restricted from accessing $17 billion of ARRA's $20 billion incentives and grants.

• The House and Senate bills correct this problem by expanding the eligibility for much-needed Medicaid and Medicare incentive funds for the "Meaningful Use" of Electronic Health Records (EHRs) to behavioral health, mental health, and substance abuse treatment professionals and facilities not previously eligible for certain funding under the provisions of ARRA.

• This exclusion from the HITECH Act impacts Americans all across the country. More than 33 million Americans seek help every year for mental health or substance abuse needs. Alarmingly, people with serious mental illness are likely to die, on average, 22 to 25 years earlier than their peers. This population is often the most in need of coordinated, comprehensive care.

• The exclusion of behavioral health from funding eligibility also has a "trickle down" effect for already overburdened primary care facilities. Efficient implementation of clinical technology can ease these inefficiencies through better information sharing and coordination.

• Adequate funding for technology is critical to enable continuity of care across the behavioral health and primary care spectrums. Mental health care providers must be able to collaborate and coordinate care with other health care providers to ensure the full health of those in our country - both physical and mental health.

• This legislation would create a level playing field for those who provide much-needed mental health services throughout our country - ensuring they have the same access to the same federal incentives as other health care providers.

• Congress will attempt to pass a Medicare extenders package by the end of 2010. It is the hope that the Kennedy and/or Whitehouse bill or a portion thereof could be included in this Medicare extenders package. We would encourage individuals all across the country to contact their elected members of the House or Senate in support of this legislation.

House and Senate Sponsors/Co-Sponsors for The Health Information Technology Extension for Behavioral Health Services Act of 2010 (HR 5040 / S 3709)