New Behavioral Health Information Technology bill introduced in Senate

Legislation is third bill that would, if passed, include psychologists as meaningful users of electronic health records.

On Nov. 12, 2013, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, introduced the Behavioral Health Information Technology Coordination Act (S. 1685) to ensure mental health providers are part of the nation’s electronic medical records network.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., introduced a similar bill, S.1685, the Behavioral Health Information Technology Act, in September 2013. While a separate bill from S. 1517, S. 1685 and S. 1517 have a common bipartisan goal: including clinical psychologists, psychiatric hospitals, community mental health centers, and outpatient and inpatient addiction providers in the Medicare and Medicaid payment systems created by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009.

Congressman Tim Murphy, R-Pa., has championed bipartisan companion legislation to S. 1685 in the House of Representatives. The Behavioral Health Information Technology Act (H.R. 2957), cosponsored by Rep. Murphy and Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., currently has 30 bipartisan cosponsors. All three pieces of legislation are endorsed by the American Psychological Association (APA), the National Council for Behavioral Health, the National Association of Counties and the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems, among other behavioral health organizations.

All three bills would amend the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health ("HITECH") Act of 2009 to include psychologists as “meaningful users” eligible for incentive payments for the adoption of electronic health records (EHRs). The incentive payments authorized under the HITECH Act 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 bills would move this timeline out to 2019.

Making psychologists eligible for HITECH incentive payments continues to be a legislative priority for APAPO, and having three bills in Congress that further this goal is a step forward. Member outreach to Congress is a critical component of advocacy efforts to advance this legislation in both chambers. APAPO 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.