EHR cash incentives proposed for behavioral providers

One welcome provision in HR 2646—the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act that was reintroduced late yesterday—is the extension of a federal program that offers financial incentives to providers to adopt EHR systems. Currently, most behavioral health providers are not eligible.

As of April 2015, nearly half a million other healthcare providers received incentive payments for participating in the Medicare and Medicaid EHR program, totaling $20.5 billion. If passed, HR 2646 would extend the opportunity to receive those incentive funds to behavioral health and addiction treatment providers, as they achieve various stages of “Meaningful Use” of their certified EHRs.

“Passing The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act would have significant impact on individuals and families coping with mental health and substance use conditions,” Steven Ronik, EdD, CEO of Henderson Behavioral Health in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., tells Behavioral Healthcare. “The provision authorizing extension of health information technology incentive payments to mental health and substance use providers and facilities represents a major advance for behavioral health by providing much-needed funding to enhance care coordination and quality. This enhanced coordination is a critical way to achieve better health outcomes for our patients—as behavioral health systems and primary care systems continue to integrate and coordinate care.”

Extended eligibility would include mental health treatment facilities, psychiatric hospitals and substance abuse treatment facilities. Newly eligible providers would include clinical psychologists and licensed social workers. Currently, behavioral health provider organizations can qualify for Meaningful Use incentive funds through the current definition of Eligible Professionals, which only includes physicians and some nurse practitioners. The typical behavioral health organization has a limited number of these professionals compared to psychologists and licensed social workers.

“In order to ‘treat the whole person,’ these providers need to be put on a level playing field with hospitals and other primary care providers,” said Mike Valentine, CEO of Netsmart, an EHR and technology provider, in a statement.

Netsmart is a founding member of the Behavioral Health IT (BHIT) Coalition, an advocacy group comprised of key organizations including the National Council for Behavioral Health, the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems and others. The BHIT Coalition is a supporter and advocate for passage of legislation in Congress to extend full Meaningful Use incentive eligibility to behavioral health providers.

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