Legislation on Telehealth Introduced

It has been reported that the federal government since 2011 has distributed over $37 billion in incentive payments to healthcare providers to adopt EHRs. However, psychologists, community mental health centers, psychiatric hospitals, and others specializing in treating addiction and mental health conditions do not qualify for this funding.

This has contributed to a substantial gap in the rates of adoption of health information technology between providers that qualify for federal EHR programs and those that do not such as behavioral health providers.

Legislation introduced by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) www.whitehouse.senate.gov and Rob Portman (R-OH) www.portman.senate.gov would help behavioral healthcare providers such as psychologists and psychiatric hospital adopt EHRs. The bill would extend federal incentives to adopt electronic health technology to behavioral healthcare providers.

“Good care for people fighting addiction or mental illness takes up-to-date information on patients just like any other kind of care,” said Senator Whitehouse. “Right now, federal incentives to adopt EHRs to use to coordinate care don’t go to most behavioral health providers. This bill would help the behavioral health community connect better with physical health doctors to get better results for patients.”

The legislation titled “Improving Access to Behavioral Health Information Technology Act” would authorize the CMS Innovation Center to implement a demonstration program to provide incentive payments for adopting EHRs to behavioral healthcare providers.

The House has introduced companion legislation sponsored by Representatives Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) https://lynnjenkins.gov and Doris Matsui (D-CA) https://watsui.house.gov which would authorize CMS Innovation to provide incentive payments to behavioral health providers.

House legislation H.R. 3331 would create a demonstration project to incentivize adoption of electronic health record technology by psychiatric hospitals, community behavioral health centers, residential and outpatient mental health and substance use treatment facilities, along with clinical psychologists and social workers. H.R. 3331 has been referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce and to the Committee on Ways and Means.

Also, Representatives Doris Matsui and Bill Johnson (R-OH) https://billjohnson.house.gov introduced the “Evidence-Based Telehealth Expansion Act of 2017” in July and if passed would encourage the use of telemedicine in the Medicare program.

The Act would enable the HHS secretary to review existing services in the Medicare program to determine which are appropriate for telehealth and the Secretary would be able to waive existing restrictions on those services if thought that telehealth would be appropriate to use

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