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NC Mental Health Providers Oppose Behavioral Health EHR Requirements

North Carolina mental health providers have expressed concern over a timeline to connect behavioral health EHR systems to the state HIE.

North Carolina mental health providers oppose a timeline to connect behavioral health EHR systems to the state HIE.

Source: Thinkstock

By Kate Monica

- A group of mental health providers and social workers in North Carolina are requesting a delay on state requirements that promote behavioral health EHR use, according to North Carolina Health News.

Specifically, the care providers oppose state legislation that would require providers in behavioral healthcare settings to link with North Carolina’s health information exchange (HIE) by June 1, 2019.

According to testimony from bill sponsor Josh Dobson (R-NC), many behavioral health providers are concerned that the high cost of connecting to the state’s HIE may pose a challenge.

North Carolina’s HIE network — NC HealthConnex — was implemented to break down information silos between providers, improve patient health outcomes, and streamline state-funded programs such as Medicaid.

The bill proposed by Dobson and others would push the deadline for providers to participate in NC HealthConnex to June 2021.

Proponents of the bill agree requiring behavioral health providers to connect to the state HIE would be beneficial in the long-term for payers, patients, and providers.

However, state-run facilities such as psychiatric hospitals and small behavioral health agencies may not have the funds to implement a costly EHR system and establish a connection with NC HealthConnex.

“You’re talking about literally hundreds of millions of dollars, so that’s the reason for this to grant them some latitude,” Dobson told North Carolina Health News.

According to a feasibility study performed by HHS in July 2018, 35 percent of providers still do not have the health IT infrastructure in place to meet the requirements part of the mandate. In the report, HHS concluded behavioral health providers should receive a delay until at least 2021.

North Carolina Senator Ralph Hise stated his disapproval for the delay, saying behavioral healthcare providers have had enough time to prepare to link up to the state HIE.

“We’ve had this [health information exchange] that’s been going for several years now and … you come near the end and everybody needs an extension,” Hise told North Carolina Health News.

“I think there may be some things that we can do to help small providers to get on … but I think it’s important to lay out that we need to be on a system where your health records will follow you through any providers within the system and within the state,” he added.

Payers including BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina have notified providers of the requirement to connect to the state HIE and submit EHR data to receive reimbursement through Medicaid and State Health plans.

“Your compliance is based on whether or not you have entered into an agreement to begin submitting data from your electronic health record information to the North Carolina Health Information Exchange Authority (NC HIEA) compliance office,” stated BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina.

“Beginning June 1, 2019, Blue Cross NC will reject all State Health Plan claims received from a NC HIEA non-compliant provider, until the provider becomes compliant,” the organization warned.

North Carolina’s mandate comes in the wake of a nationwide push to promote behavioral health EHR use.

In June 2018, the House of Representatives passed a bill to test ways to incentivize behavioral health EHR use as part of a larger package aimed at combatting the opioid crisis.  

The bill amends a portion of the Social Security act to promote testing of federal incentive payments for behavioral health providers that use certified EHR technology (CEHRT). The legislation also authorizes the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) to incentivize health IT demonstrations for behavioral healthcare providers.

This legislation takes the critical step of taking mental health and addiction treatment into the 21st century while reducing health spending and expanding access for those treatments to underserved communities — including rural areas in my home state of Kansas,” said Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) in a June 12 floor speech before the House.

Incentivizing EHR adoption among behavioral healthcare providers may help to close the digital divide between primary and specialty care.

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