APA and Behavioral Health Information Technology Coalition letter urges Senate to authorize meaningful use incentive payments for behavioral health providers.

Approximately 90 percent of Medicare beneficiaries with clinical depression are also diagnosed with at least one comorbid medical/surgical chronic disease, according to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. And behavioral health conditions are associated with strikingly high mortality and morbidity rates independent of comorbid chronic conditions.

Yet clinical psychologists, psychiatric hospitals, clinical social workers, community mental health centers and outpatient/inpatient addiction providers cannot coordinate care electronically with hospitals, physicians, cardiologists, endocrinologists and nephrologists because they have been ineligible for Medicare and Medicaid meaningful use incentive payments to implement electronic health records (EHRs).

The Practice Organization has been actively working as a member of the Behavioral Health Information Technology Coalition (BHIT), founded in 2010, to correct the oversight in the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009 that excluded key behavioral health providers, such as psychologists, from receiving Medicare and Medicaid incentive funds to implement EHR systems.

On Jan. 27, APA and the BHIT Coalition sent a letter (PDF, 589KB) to the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance bipartisan Chronic Care Working Group, strongly urging the Senate group to include mental health and substance use providers in the HITECH Act. The Chronic Care Working Group was formed in May 2015 to analyze current law, discuss alternative policy options and develop bipartisan legislative solutions to improve care for Medicare patients with chronic conditions.

Also of note, President Obama’s fiscal year 2017 budget proposal to Congress (delivered Feb. 9), includes for the first time legislative proposals to provide mental health providers Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments for EHRs. The Practice Organization applauds the White House for this important recognition, and will work with partners in the BHIT Coalition to advance the legislative proposals this Congress.

“The integration of mental health with physical health care is integral to improving the overall health of our population,” says APA Executive Director for Professional Practice Katherine C. Nordal, PhD. “The increased ability to communicate and coordinate effectively through electronic health records not only helps improve patient care, but also furthers the value of psychological services and of working collaboratively with other providers.”