Psychologist presents at Hill briefing on behavioral health information technology

Panelists encouraged support of bills that would make psychologists eligible to receive BHIT incentive payments.

Knee surgery patients who receive psychological care both before and after surgery use less pain medication and start physical therapy sooner, Joseph Cvitkovic, PhD, a psychologist and the director of behavioral health care for Jefferson Hospital — Allegheny Health Network, told congressional staffers and attendees at a Senate briefing on Behavioral Health Information Technology July 22 in Washington, D.C. Integrated care works, he said, but the cost of the technology needed to coordinate patient care can be a huge financial strain. 

“Behavioral health care professionals and facilities must be able to participate in the Medicare and Medicaid incentive program for health information technology (HIT)” said Cvitkovic. “These technologies can clearly enhance the quality, efficiency and financial stability of behavioral health care, [but] the start-up costs can be prohibitive for the average practice or hospital-based psychiatric service.”

Cvitkovic was one of three panelists for a briefing by the Behavioral Health Information Technology Coalition, of which the American Psychological Association is a member. The coalition was 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 electronic health record (EHR) systems. 

Under HITECH, eligible providers who demonstrate “meaningful use” of EHR systems may receive incentive payments of up to $44,000 from Medicare or $63,750 from Medicaid. The HITECH Act defines eligible providers as medical doctors, doctors of osteopathic, dentists, dental surgeons, podiatrists, optometrists and chiropractors. In general, behavioral health providers, except for psychiatrists, are excluded. 

The briefing focused on the need to extend incentive payments to behavioral health and substance use treatment providers in Medicare and Medicaid. Start-up costs for implementing electronic health records for a medium-sized outpatient practice can easily reach $100,000, with ongoing follow-up and system maintenance costs, said Cvitkovic. Without financial incentives to enable EHR implementation, behavioral health care professionals and facilities will be left out of clinical care coordination, and quality of patient care will be jeopardized.  

Chris Wolf, CEO of ViaQuest in Columbus, Ohio, and Ginger Bandeen, quality improvement manager for Columbia Community Mental Health Center in St. Helens, Oregon, also offered testimony. The briefing was moderated by Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams. The briefing garnered national attention from sources such as Politico. 

The coalition supports passage of the Behavioral Health Information Technology Act (S. 1517) introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and the Behavioral Health Information Coordination Act (S. 1685) introduced by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and the bipartisan House version of the legislation, HR 2957, introduced by Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa. and Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz. The APA Practice Organization is continuing to work on gaining additional cosponsors for both pieces of legislation.

 Joseph Cvitkovic, PhD, director of behavioral health care for Jefferson Hospital, and Laurel Stine, director of congressional affairs for the APA Practice Organization at the July 22, 2014 Senate briefing on behavioral health information technology.

Joseph Cvitkovic, PhD, director of behavioral health care for Jefferson Hospital, 
and Laurel Stine, director of congressional affairs for the APA Practice Organization 
at the July 22, 2014 Senate briefing on behavioral health information technology.