Push to extend electronic health record incentive payments to mental health field

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) this week introduced legislation extending medical technology incentives to providers in the mental health field. 

The bill, supporters say, would fix an iniquity in the Democrats' new health reform law, which excludes mental health workers from billions of dollars in payments designed to entice doctors to quickly adopt e-prescribing electronic health records (EHRs) and other medical technologies. 

The Whitehouse bill would extend eligibility to behavioral health, mental health and substance abuse treatment professionals.

"These providers are the backbone of our mental health care system, and it is vital that they have access to cost-saving, quality-enhancing advances in health information technology," Whitehouse said in a statement announcing the bill.  

"By expanding the use of electronic health records, my legislation will give mental health professionals access to comprehensive and up to date medical histories, enhancing the precision of diagnoses and reducing medication errors."

The proposal would expand eligibility for EHR incentive payments to include licensed psychologists and clinical social workers; extend facility incentives to include inpatient psychiatric hospitals; and expand eligibility of Medicaid meaningful use incentive funding to community mental health centers, mental health treatment facilities, psychiatric hospitals and substance abuse treatment facilities. 

 Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) has introduced the same bill in the House.