Behavioral Health Information Technology bill introduced in House

The bill would enable psychologists to qualify for incentive payments to implement electronic health records

By Legal & Regulatory Affairs and Government Relations staff

July 16, 2012—On June 27, Representative Tim Murphy (R-PA) introduced The Behavioral Health Information Technology (BHIT) Act, legislation to extend eligibility for health information technology incentive payments to mental and behavioral health professionals and facilities.

Similar to bipartisan legislation already introduced in the Senate by Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), the bill (S 539 / HR 6043) would amend the HITECH Act of 2009 to support mental and behavioral health by enabling psychologists and social workers to qualify for Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments for integrating electronic health records into their practices. It would also extend this eligibility to nationally accredited community mental health centers, residential mental health facilities, outpatient mental health treatment facilities and substance use facilities. 

Earlier this year, psychology leaders from across the country gathered at the 2012 State Leadership Conference in Washington and attended more than 300 meetings with members of Congress, pressing to make psychologists eligible for existing HITECH Act incentive payments and support the integration of psychology and mental health in the nation’s developing health information technology infrastructure.

Additional background on APAPO’s fight for inclusion

The HITECH Act significantly expanded the U.S. government’s efforts to establish a national electronic health records (EHR) system, which 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, among other benefits. Thanks in part to efforts by APAPO, the Act includes significant protections for mental health record confidentiality. 

The Act authorizes the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to provide a reimbursement incentive for physician and hospital providers who are successful in becoming “meaningful users” of EHRs. These incentive payments began in January 2011, and will gradually phase down by 2016.

Starting in 2015, eligible professionals are expected to actively utilize EHRs in compliance with the meaningful use definition or be subject to financial penalties under Medicare.

Unfortunately, the 2009 Act excluded psychologists and most other non-physician providers from receiving Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments and grant funds to adopt EHRs. The Act defines eligible professionals as medical doctors, doctors of osteopathy, dentists, dental surgeons, podiatrists, optometrists and chiropractors.

The grassroots push for bill cosponsors for legislation in both the House and Senate remains essential to our legislative strategy. In May 2012, APAPO implemented an enhanced software program to more efficiently communicate with and mobilize grassroots psychologists for legislative advocacy. Visit the Legislative Action Center to urge your Senators and Representative to make psychologists eligible for HIT incentive payments.

We will provide further details and updates in future issues of this e-newsletter.

For additional information, please contact our Legal and Regulatory Affairs Department at (202) 336-5886 or by email.