Capitol Hill Update

Republicans and Democrats introduce bill to foster adoption of electronic health records; psychologists pressure Congress to reject ACA repeal.

By Government Relations Staff

Members of Congress have introduced legislation that could alleviate some of the costs psychologists incur when using electronic health records for their practice.

The "Improving Access to Behavioral Health Information Technology Act" (S. 1732, H.R. 3331) would authorize the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation Center, within the Department of Health and Human Services, to implement a demonstration program that would provide financial incentives to behavioral health care providers for adopting electronic health records.

The legislation is sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and in the House of Representatives by U.S. Reps. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., and Doris Matsui, D-Calif.

The APA Practice Organization has continued to seek legislative solutions to help psychologists receive incentive payments for much-needed electronic health records, and to encourage participation in the development of an information technology system. Health information technology is the bedrock of any effort to coordinate and integrate care for patients across all modalities of care. By using electronic health records, psychologists can help enhance the quality of patient care and further integrate behavioral health and primary care approaches to improving health outcomes.

As noted by Wendy Plante, PhD, of the Rhode Island Psychological Association, in a statement from Whitehouse's office, "a complete health record that integrates medical and behavioral health can reduce adverse drug to drug interactions and duplicative tests, and provide necessary information to the emergency department at hospitals to triage patients more effectively. This not only improves care but, ultimately, can reduce health care costs."

As an active member of the Behavioral Health Information Technology Coalition, which supports (PDF, 83KB) the legislation, the APA Practice Organization will educate members of Congress on the pressing need to enact the legislation over the next year.

Psychologists play a role in halting ACA repeal

In the days and weeks leading up to the Senate's July 28 vote against repeal of the Affordable Care Act, psychologists sent more than 11,000 emails to members of Congress urging "no" votes on the legislation. More than 19,000 such messages were sent during the more protracted House debate earlier this year.

In letters to House and Senate leaders, APA President Antonio Puente, PhD, and APA Chief Executive Officer Arthur Evans, PhD, also urged Congress to reject ACA repeal proposals and instead work in a bipartisan fashion to strengthen the individual insurance markets and extend coverage to more people.

This work, combined with similar efforts undertaken by a broad coalition of other mental health and substance use groups, and consumer and provider organizations, was instrumental in preserving the ACA and its protections.

The Senate’s narrow 51-49 vote on July 28 against legislation to repeal key provisions of the ACA ended a chaotic week in Congress that included votes rejecting two other comprehensive bills that would have restructured the U.S. health care system. The Senate vote likely closes the door on repeal of the ACA by this Congress, and comes after months of work by lawmakers in both chambers, including House passage of a repeal bill in May.

This outcome is a victory for APA, the APA Practice Organization and practicing psychologists across the country, who worked hard to prevent Senate passage of legislation that would result in fewer Americans having effective, reliable coverage for mental health and substance use treatment. With repeal efforts stymied, the Senate and House have shifted their focus toward stabilizing individual insurance markets.

Major health system reform may be off the table for now. However, Congress is likely to vote on health care legislation before the year ends. APA Practice Organization staff are advocating for proposals which build on and extend, not weaken, current ACA protections.