Hospital-based docs now eligible for MU bonuses; bill seeks expansion to mental health

Physicians in hospital-based outpatient clinics now are eligible for federal EMR incentive payments, as President Obama has signed into law legislation that removes a restriction in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Meanwhile, two longtime health IT advocates in Congress have introduced legislation that would expand the forthcoming "meaningful use" program to behavioral and mental health professionals.

The proposed Health IT Extension for Behavioral Health Services Act (H.R. 5040), from Reps. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), would make psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, psychiatric hospitals and substance-abuse treatment professionals and facilities eligible to receive Medicare and Medicaid bonus payments for adopting EMRs. Kennedy and Murphy are founders and co-chairs of the 21st Century Health Care Caucus.

"Electronic medical records ensure that physicians and mental health professionals are working together and delivering the best possible treatments," Murphy, himself a psychologist, said in a statement. "The Health Information Technology Extension for Behavioral Health Services Act keeps the 21st Century Healthcare Caucus's commitment to treating mental illness with the same vigor as physical ailments."

At least one EMR vendor for behavioral health organizations was gratified by the news. "This proposed legislation corrects an oversight that excluded a major component of the healthcare system from critical funding that will help organizations accelerate their adoption of electronic health records," James L. Conway, CEO of Great River, N.Y.-based Netsmart Technologies, said in a press release.

For more information:
- read this Government Health IT article
- see this Healthcare IT News story about the Kennedy-Murphy bill
- check out this Netsmart Technologies page, which includes links to the legislation