The U.S. Senate has passed a bill authorizing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to provide incentives to behavioral healthcare providers to promote their adoption of electronic health records.

Currently, federal rules prevent behavioral health providers treating mental and substance abuse disorders from receiving incentive payments for implementing EHR systems.

However, the Improving Access to Behavioral Health Information Technology Act—introduced last year by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio)—authorizes the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation to implement a demonstration program that offers incentive payments to behavioral health providers for adopting and using EHRs.

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Also See: HHS proposes adding behavioral health to EHR program

“Electronic records help doctors and other providers make better decisions about their patients’ care. Americans who receive substance abuse and mental health treatment should benefit from that technology, too,” said Whitehouse in a written statement. “This bill would test the use of electronic health records by mental health providers to care for patients who too often are left behind.”

Whitehouse points out that the federal government has paid $38 billion in incentive payments to healthcare providers to adopt EHRs. Nonetheless, psychologists, community mental health centers, psychiatric hospitals and others that specialize in treating addiction and behavioral health conditions do not currently qualify for this funding.

That disparity has resulted in a substantial gap in the rates of EHR adoption by specialists in behavioral health, he contends.

According to Whitehouse, his bill now goes to the House of Representatives, where companion legislation has been introduced by Reps. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) and Doris Matsui (D-Calif.).

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