Bipartisan bill aims to create incentives for mental health providers to adopt electronic records, health IT systems

New legislation aims to ensure that mental health providers are not left out in the push to adopt electronic health records (EHRs) and other health IT systems. 

The bipartisan bill introduced by Reps. Doris Matsui, D-California, and Markwayne Mullin, R-Oklahoma, aims to give targeted funding to providers and community mental health centers aimed at adopting health IT systems.

The legislation comes as the COVID-19 pandemic caused an explosion of telehealth use among mental and behavioral health providers. 

“Many behavioral health providers have faced cost barriers to utilizing electronic health records, making it difficult to coordinate care with primary care providers,” Mullin said in a statement.

The Behavioral Health Information Technology Now Act would provide $250 million over three years to finance behavioral health IT adoption via the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI). 

It also calls on the federal government to create voluntary behavioral health IT standards for implementation.

The money would go toward funding a pilot that would give incentives to behavioral health providers to adopt EHR technology. Matsui co-sponsored legislation that passed back in 2018 to create the model under CMMI, but the center has yet to implement the pilot. 

The legislation, which is supported by advocacy groups such as the American Psychological Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, comes as Congress is aiming to take a longer look this session at key gaps in care surrounding mental health coverage. 

The Senate Finance Committee is working on a series of bills aimed at increasing access to mental healthcare coverage. 

A key part of that legislation will be to address parity in pay between behavioral and physical health providers. Even though federal law demands parity in payments between the two, there remain gaps in reimbursement that have fueled access issues, senators behind the effort have said. 

Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, has said that the goal is to get together a bipartisan bill by the summer and that the legislation will also seek to improve telehealth access for mental health providers. 

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services gave major flexibility for providers to get Medicare reimbursement for telehealth services, including lifting a restriction on out-of-state providers to give telehealth care in another state.