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Bill Extends HITECH To Mental Health

Eligibility for $20 billion in incentives would be expanded to include mental healthcare professionals and facilities, a group left out of original ARRA provisions.

Legislation introduced in Congress proposes to expand the scope of healthcare providers eligible for meaningful-use incentives to include mental health professionals and facilities.

The HITECH Extension for Behavioral Health Services Act of 2010 (HR 5025) proposes to provide meaningful use of e-health records awards to mental health professionals and facilities, a category of healthcare providers that were excluded from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health provisions, which were signed into law in February 2009.

The new bill proposes extending eligibility for HITECH's financial incentives and grant programs to behavioral, mental health, and substance abuse professionals; licensed psychologists; social workers; psychiatric hospitals; behavioral and mental health clinics; and substance abuse treatment centers.

The bill was introduced last week by Representatives Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Tim Murphy (D-Pa.).

The legislation, if passed, would address a major category of healthcare providers who've complained they've been left out from participating in the ARRA's $20 billion-plus HITECH programs. Starting in 2011, HITECH provides financial rewards to "eligible healthcare providers" who meet the federal government's meaningful use of health IT requirements.

The bill also proposes that behavioral and mental health facilities be eligible for Office of National Coordinator of Health IT grants for the purchase of health IT, related training, implementation of telemedicine, and participation in the regional extension centers being set up nationwide to assist healthcare providers in their health IT deployments.

"Delivering health IT to mental health and behavioral providers bridges the care for those with mental and physical illness," said Murphy, a psychologist, in a statement. "To best diagnose and treat patients, mental health professionals need complete, up-to-date medical histories," he said.

"Electronic medical records ensure that physicians and mental health professionals are working together and delivering the best possible treatments," said Murphy.

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