House Legislation Would Modestly Expand Use of Technology in Treating Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders
Last month, the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy & Commerce Committee approved the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015. The Act is designed to improve access to treatment for mental health and substance use disorders, and it includes several provisions to modestly expand and improve the use of technology in delivering care.
Specifically, the legislation would require HHS to establish a program in which States are awarded grants to, among other things, pay for consultations provided by a psychiatrist or psychologist to a primary care physician through the use of “qualified telehealth technology for the identification, diagnosis, mitigation, or treatment of a mental health disorder.” “Qualified telehealth technology” is defined broadly to include “interactive audio, audio-only telephone conversation, video, or other telecommunications technology.”
The Act would also amend the Social Security Act to extend the EHR Incentive Payment Program for Eligible Professionals to psychologists. Currently, eligibility for this program is limited to “physicians” (as that term is defined by the Medicare statute).
There is a long way to go before this legislation becomes law, as it still needs full approval from the Energy & Commerce Committee before it even gets to the House floor. The Act’s prospects for eventual passage are unclear. In the Health Subcommittee, it was opposed by a number of Democrats, but several Democrats are co-sponsoring the bill.