Behavioral Health Information Technology bill introduced in US Senate

This legislation is a companion to the bill introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this year.

By Government Relations staff

On Sept. 18, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., introduced S. 1517, the Behavioral Health Information Technology Act, which would make psychologists and other mental and behavioral health providers and facilities eligible for Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments to integrate electronic health records into their practices. The companion bill, HR 2957, was introduced in the House of Representatives by representatives Tim Murphy, R-Pa., and Ron Barber, D-Ariz, earlier this year and currently has 21 bipartisan cosponsors.

Making psychologists and other mental and behavioral health care providers eligible for incentives will foster improved care coordination for patients with mental and behavioral health conditions, which is intended to improve quality of services while better managing costs. The inclusion of psychologists and other mental health providers will help further psychologists' integration into primary care settings as health care reform progresses, and increase the likelihood that Medicare and Medicaid patients will receive quality health care.

The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009 authorizes the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to provide a reimbursement incentive for physician and hospital providers who are successful in becoming "meaningful users" of electronic health records (EHRs). Psychologists and mental and behavioral health care providers and facilities were omitted from the HITECH Act, making them ineligible to receive incentive payments. Recognizing these providers as "meaningful users" under the law will promote integration of mental health into primary care settings, reduce adverse drug to drug interactions, reduce duplicative tests and provide necessary information to the emergency department at hospitals to triage patients more effectively.

Incentive payments began in January 2011, and will gradually phase down by 2016. Starting in 2015, providers are expected to be actively utilizing EHRs in compliance with the meaningful use definition or they will be subject to financial penalties under Medicare. For mental health providers, the two pieces of legislation extend this timeline to 2019.

Outreach to Congress is a critical component of advancing this legislation in both chambers. The APA Practice Organization encourages psychologists to reach out to your members of Congress and ask them to cosponsor this legislation. Visit the Legislative Action Center, and send any substantive responses you receive from your senators or representatives to APA Director of Field and State Operations Ashton Randle.

Update on legislative advocacy efforts related to Medicare's physician definition

Another key legislative priority for APAPO is the effort to include psychologists in Medicare's definition of "physician." Bills introduced in the Senate and House by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., would allow psychologists to practice to the full extent of their licensure, and to be treated like all other non-physician providers already included in the Medicare physician definition. Gaining this legislation would end unnecessary physician supervision without increasing Medicare costs.

When Sen. Brown's Medicare Mental Health Access Act (S. 1064) was introduced in June 2013 , the House bill HR 794, introduced by Rep. Schakowsky, had 23 bipartisan cosponsors. Thanks in part to the grassroots advocacy efforts of APAPO members, HR 794 has 42 bipartisan cosponsors and S. 1064 already has five cosponsors.

Use the Legislative Action Center to send an email to your senators or representative encouraging them to cosponsor the BHIT legislation. Psychologists can also show support for this legislation on social media accounts, such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. Follow @APAPractice on Twitter for updates on the legislation and messages to share.