Improving Access to Behavioral Health Information Technology Act

On Friday August 4th, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced a bipartisan bill aimed to help Behavioral Health organizations adopt electronic health records (EHR). The legislation would extend federal incentives to behavioral health care providers. The result expected is better coordination of care for Americans experiencing behavioral health issues such as mental health or addiction.


Portman is quoted saying: “This common-sense bill would improve care for those receiving mental health and substance abuse treatment. And it would help bring our behavioral health system in line with physician health care by enabling the same incentives for substance use and behavioral health providers that other medical professionals have received.”


Whitehouse also commented: “Good care for people fighting addiction or mental illness takes up-to-date information on a patient, just like any other kind of care. Right now, federal incentives to adopt electronic health records and better coordinate care don’t go to most behavioral health providers. This bill would help fix that, helping the behavioral health community connect better with physical health doctors to get better results for patients. Thank you to Senator Portman for joining me on this bill. It’s an example of the smart, bipartisan work Congress can do to improve our health care system.”


Their bill, Improving Access to Behavioral Health Information Technology Act, would authorize the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Innovation Center to implement a demonstration program that provides incentive payments for adopting electronic health records to behavioral health care providers.


Since 2011, the federal government has distributed over $37 billion in incentive payments to health care providers to adopt electronic health records. However, psychologists, community mental health centers, psychiatric hospitals, and others that specialize 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 electronic health record programs and those that do not, like behavioral health providers.


Sponsored by Congresswomen Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) and Doris Matsui (D-CA), the House has introduced companion legislation to authorize CMS Innovation Center incentive payments to behavioral health providers.