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Don't be a 'you-know-what'

September 1, 2010
by Dennis G. Grantham, Senior Editor
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Everyone overlooks something once in a while. But when I was a young graduate student, a friend and fellow student named Diane taught me that there is a special name for those who overlook something really significant. On such an occasion-rare, I assure you-Diane looked at my work, heaved a diminutive sigh, and turned to me, saying, “Denn … you bonehead!”

Which brings me to the point of this message: What would you think about a group of committed, concerned, and forever-underfunded people who overlook money intended to help their businesses?

I'm speaking, of course, about money that's there, right now: the HITECH incentive funds, approved in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which support the adoption and meaningful use of electronic health records (EHRs). EHRs are a principal product of the vendor organizations highlighted in our annual IT Vendor Survey.

Today, right now, behavioral healthcare providers including physicians, psychiatrists, and nurse practitioners are considered eligible providers-eligible for Medicaid EHR implementation incentives of up to $63,750, which they may assign to behavioral health organizations that implement EHRs and achieve “meaningful use.” (See Maximize your EHR incentives in our July/August issue.)

At present, behavioral health organizations-and many licensed clinical professionals-don't yet qualify for these incentives. But with your support, that situation can change, thanks to The Health Information Technology Extension for Behavioral Health Services Act of 2010. Introduced by Representatives Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Tim Murphy (R-P.A.) in April as H.R. 5040, this proposal was joined in August by a companion Senate bill (S. 3709) sponsored by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

The H.R. 5040/S. 3709 legislation would make EHR meaningful use incentives available to virtually the entire field. It would do so by expanding the language of the 2009 ARRA HITECH Act to make licensed psychologists, clinical social workers, community mental health centers, substance use treatment facilities, and psychiatric hospitals eligible for the same EHR incentives now open to other healthcare professionals and hospitals. At present, H.R. 5040/S. 3709 has 72 House co-sponsors and seven Senate co-sponsors. It's not a budget buster, since the HITECH Act funds that support it were allocated in 2009. And, as David Raths points out, recent modification of meaningful use requirements that providers and organizations must meet have been simplified. For behavioral healthcare providers, this could be the best chance you'll have to compete on a level playing field for health information technology.

Don't let this opportunity to achieve parity in EHR incentive funding get away. Don't forget about it. Don't overlook it. And, just as important, don't let your senators or representatives forget, either. Let them know that co-sponsoring The Health Information Technology Extension for Behavioral Health Services Act of 2010 (H.R. 5040/S. 3709) supports the spirit of 2008 parity legislation and 2010 healthcare reforms, that it's vital to integrating our healthcare system, and that it's only fair to the organizations you lead, to the employees who serve despite continuing obstacles, and to the millions of Americans who depend on your organizations to help them achieve wholeness, recovery, and a life in the community every day.

Dennis G. Grantham, Senior Editor Behavioral Healthcare 2010 September;30(8):8