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Mediocre Senate bill could include EHR incentives

March 16, 2016
by Julie Miller, Editor in Chief
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A bipartisan group of senators on the HELP Committee (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) today approved the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016, a piece of legislation that aims to address the need for mental health treatment.

“This bill will help address this crisis by ensuring our federal programs and policies incorporate proven, scientific approaches to improve care for patients,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) in a statement.

However, the National Review has also called it a “rudderless hodgepodge,” and in a blog, the Treatment Advocacy Center said it believes the legislation will not be much help, while at the same time, it ignores current proposals that have more support within the behavioral health industry and among legislators.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told Politico he plans to offer an amendment to the Mental Health Reform Act that would allow behavioral health providers to receive federal incentive money to implement EHRs—incentives that other medical providers already receive, to the tune of more than $25 billion. Providers could possibly voice support for the amendment because it’s a cause they have long advocated for.

Some groups have already offered positive reactions to the current bill, such as the National Association of Counties (NACo), the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the National Council for Behavioral Health.

"NAMI welcomes the committee's action as another step forward in the process leading to enactment of bipartisan comprehensive mental health reform,” said Mary Giliberti, CEO of NAMI, in a statement.

The proposal authorizes funding for SAMHSA and the Community and Mental Health Services and Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment block grants, which would be helpful, according to NACo.

According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, the bill authorizes $15 million in grants for mental health awareness trainings, similar to the Mental Health First Aid program for four years. It also reauthorizes and adapts the primary care integration program, calling for five-year, $10 million grants to states to widen the scope of integrated care activities and expand target patient populations. National Council has been supportive of the proposal but is also working on improvements. 

The Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 would also:

  • Improve coordination between federal agencies and departments that provide services for individuals with mental illness, calling for clarification of HIPAA;
  • Authorize grants for the HRSA-SAMHSA Mental and Behavioral Health Training Program;
  • Require that the federal agencies and programs incorporate the most up-to-date approaches for treating mental illness;
  • Require that agency leadership include mental health professionals who have practical experience; 
  • Increase access to care for individuals including veterans, homeless individuals, women and children; and
  • Promote better enforcement of existing mental health parity laws.