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Another Senate bill would extend EHR incentives to behavioral health

November 20, 2013
by Dennis Grantham, Editor-in-Chief
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Sen. Portman's proposal includes budget offset to cover costs of expanded EHR incentives

The introduction of S. 1865, the Behavioral Health Information Technology Coordination Act, by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) brings to two the number of bills now under consideration by Congressional committees that would extend Medicare and Medicaid program incentives for meaningful use of electronic health record (EHR) systems to behavioral health services providers excluded from EHR incentives in the HITECH portion of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) of 2009.

Like the Behavioral Health Information Technology Act (S. 1517 and H.R. 2957), which is under consideration by committees in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, Portman’s bill would  extend incentives to psychiatric hospitals, mental health centers, and addiction treatment centers while extending the HITECH legislation’s definition of “eligible provider” to include clinical psychologists.

The Behavioral Health Information Technology Act, sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA-18), explicitly adds clinical social workers to the list of eligible providers, while Portman’s proposed bill is silent on that issue. The Whitehouse/Murphy proposal currently has 4 Senate cosponsors and 30 House cosponsors, though additional cosponsors would be needed to push any of the proposals out of committee to floor votes.

Importantly, the new bill introduced by Portman also includes a budget offset to cover the cost of the expanded EHR incentives. This offset takes the form of the Safeguarding Access for Every Medicare Patient Act or SAFE Act (H.R. 3239), which is now incorporated in the text of Portman’s proposed legislation. Thus, the net budget savings resulting from passage of S. 1865 are, according to Portman, predicted to be $1 billion over a 10 year period, a figure that could attract additional cosponsors to the measure.