Make Psychologists Eligible for HITECH Act Incentives
Congress should recognize psychologist eligibility for HITECH Act incentive payments by passing the soon to be reintroduced Behavioral Health Information Technology (BHIT) Act. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Representative Tim Murphy introduced the bill in the last Congress.1
The BHIT Act would amend the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009 to support mental and behavioral health by enabling psychologists to qualify for Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments for integrating electronic health records (EHR) into their practices. Eligibility would also extend to nationally accredited community mental health centers, residential mental health facilities, outpatient mental health treatment facilities and substance use facilities.
The inclusion of psychologists and treatment facilities will increase the likelihood that Medicare and Medicaid patients will receive effective, high-quality care from well-trained and licensed mental and behavioral health professionals, while generating cost savings. Recognizing psychologists as eligible EHR "meaningful users" under the law will promote integration of psychology and mental health in primary care settings, reduce adverse drug to drug interactions and duplicative tests, and provide necessary information to hospital emergency departments for patient triage.
Background: The HITECH Act significantly expanded the U.S. government's promotion of a national electronic health records system. This system would enable authorized health care professionals and hospitals to access centralized information, such as lab test results and medication lists, to provide safer and more efficient patient care. At the same time, the act includes significant mental health record privacy protections.
The act authorizes the centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to provide significant reimbursement incentives for physician and hospital providers who become EHR “meaningful users”. Incentive payments began in January 2011 with a gradual phase-down by 2016. Starting in 2015, eligible professionals are expected to be actively utilizing EHRs in compliance with the meaningful use definition or be subject to financial penalties under Medicare.
Unfortunately, the act excluded psychologists and most other non-physician providers from receiving Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments to adopt EHRs, since the law defines eligible professionals as medical doctors, doctors of osteopathic, dentists, dental surgeons, podiatrists, optometrists and chiropractors. The BHIT Act will include psychologists with a five-year opportunity to become meaningful users of EHR before financial penalties accrue.