Lawmakers introduce bill to extend MU to behavioral health providers

Reps. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) have reintroduced a bill that would, among other things, add behavioral health providers to the Meaningful Use program.

The bill, Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, H.R. 2646, is a revamped and softer version than its 2013 predecessor. It would expand the Meaningful Use program to clinical psychologists and licensed social workers, as well as to mental health treatment centers, substance abuse treatment facilities and psychiatric hospitals. It also would extend the timelines accordingly by five years for these new entrants to the program.

The bill aims to break down barriers to care, clarify privacy standards for families and caregivers, reform outdated mental health programs, expand parity accountability and invest in services for the most difficult to treat cases.

"Our clients are working tirelessly to integrate their services with the rest of healthcare to improve the health of all Americans, yet these providers are not fully eligible for valuable funding that would help them more effectively address the needs of those battling mental illness and addiction issues," says Mike Valentine, chief executive officer, Netsmart, part of the Behavioral Health IT Coalition, in a statement. "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."

Behavioral health providers continue to lag behind when it comes to adoption of EHRs, in large part because they are not part of the Meaningful Use program, even though they increasingly are pressured to implement the systems. They also are subject to additional barriers, such as privacy laws more stringent than HIPAA and the fact that mental health records often include information about people other than the patient, such as family members or ex-spouses. However, failure of these providers to adopt EHRs may make it harder to coordinate care for mental health patients.

To learn more:
- here's the bill (.pdf)
- read the announcement
- here's the Netsmart statement