Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

Leaders Ask for It Funding Fix

Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

Leaders Ask for It Funding Fix

Article excerpt

Recognizing the importance of improved technology, notably, adoption of electronic health records (EHRs), to meeting the nations goals of improving care, eliminating errors, and reducing costs, many healthcare providers celebrated the announcement of major information technology funding incentives provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Within the ARRA, the $50 billion Health Information Technology for Economic Clinical Health (HITECH) Act encourages targeted development of healthcare technology infrastructure with a three-part program that includes:

* Standards and certification criteria for creation of interoperable systems;

* Grants, loans, and incentives to encourage adoption and "meaningful use" of certified electronic health records; and,

* Improvements to information privacy and security rules to encourage widespread adoption and use of health IT infrastructure.

Early on, however, behavioral health technology advocates noted a problem: The HITECH Act's technology incentives were offered only to "eligible professionals" in the behavioral health field, specifically non-hospital based physicians and nurse practitioners. Many large behavioral health organizations - notably inpatient psychiatric hospitals, addiction treatment centers, and community behavioral health centers - would not qualify for organizationwide funding under the definition of "hospital" used in the HITECH Act.

Immediately, advocates recognized that this legislative omission would, if allowed to stand, effectively torpedo the levels of funding required to acquire, adopt, and achieve meaningful use of EHRs and other vital health IT infrastructure. The omission would mean that the only incentive funds available to behavioral health organizations would be those assigned by their eligible provider physicians and nurse practitioners. These providers, who would have to use certified EHRs to meet "meaningful use" criteria to qualify for funds, could realize up to $63,500 in Medicaid incentives over a six-year period, from October 201 1 to October 2016.

"While $63,000 per provider sounds like a lot of money, you have to look at the structure of a typical behavioral health organization," says Kevin Scalia, executive vice president for corporate development at Netsmart Technologies (Great River, NY). "In a community behavioral health center, you might have one MD, several psychologists, some clinical social workers, and many case mangers and counselors, all of whom require access to information technology. …

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