Sen. Whitehouse Steps Up for Mental Health Parity

Good news for the mental health professions, who desperately need better tools for managing health Information:

Whitehouse Introduces Legislation to Improve Mental Health Care


Washington, DC – In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) made an unprecedented investment in our medical infrastructure, providing almost $20 billion in incentive funds for health information technology.  However, an important group of health care providers were excluded from these incentives: behavioral health, mental health, and substance abuse treatment professionals and facilities.  Today, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the Behavioral Health Information Technology Act (S. 1517) to correct that inequity.


“In the wake of this week’s tragic mass shooting in Washington, we are once again confronting questions about the treatment of mental illness in America,” said Whitehouse.  “Many questions remain about the shooting, but one thing is crystal clear: mental health is just as important as physical health.  This legislation will extend to mental and behavioral health professionals the same assistance given to other health providers, which will help them invest in vital health information technology.”


The Behavioral Health Information Technology Act would enable behavioral health providers, including psychologists, community mental health centers, and psychiatric hospitals, among others, to receive incentive payments for the adoption and meaningful use of electronic health records.  More specifically, it would:

  • ·         Expand the types of providers eligible for Medicare incentives for the use of electronic health records to include licensed psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, and psychiatric hospitals;
  • ·         Expand eligibility for Medicaid meaningful use incentive payments to include community mental health centers, mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities, psychiatric hospitals, licensed psychologists, and licensed clinical social workers; and
  • ·         Allows electronic health record incentive payments to eligible professionals and hospitals under Medicare Advantage plans.

Senator Whitehouse previously introduced a version of this bill in the Senate in 2010.  Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy also championed this issue in the House until he left office. 



Interview with Sheldon Whitehouse at Netroots Nation 2012

Short interview with Sen. Whitehouse in which he extolls the virtues of Netroots Nation, appreciates the value of the Occupy Movement, and talks about his efforts to keep funding for wellness and health. He also talks about his phone conversation with President Obama following the Buffet Rule vote in the Senate, and how the fight is not over to change our tax policies to support the middle class.

Thank You, Senator Whitehouse

It’s always the little things that really get on your nerves. From…

07:09 AM EST on Thursday, December 16, 2010

Journal Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON, D.C. — It may be, as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse put it, “far from the most serious issue we face,” but he may be in for some serious fan mail with Wednesday’s enactment of his bill to crack down on noisy TV ads.

The Rhode Island Democrat was on hand at the White House as President Obama signed the measure, known formally as the CALM Act, for Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation.

“Most Americans experience the frustration of abrasively loud television commercials, with advertisers grabbing for our attention by ramping up the volume,” Whitehouse said in a news release issued by his office. “Quieting these commercials to normal volume will mean one less annoyance in our daily lives.”

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., sponsored the House version of the CALM TV ad bill. She told the Wall Street Journal recently that the CALM Act is the most popular piece of legislation she’s sponsored in her 18 years in Congress. “If I’d saved 50 million children from some malady, people would not have the interest that they have in this,” she said.

This won’t take effect for a year or two, but it will make my home a more peaceful place. So many times, my blogging is rudely disturbed when the game (whatever, there’s always a game being played somewhere on Earth), which is white noise to me, is interrupted by a blasting commercial for male enhancement, or feminine protection, or ‘free’ insurance for the already insured.

I like to sit with Mr. Green, but this kind of thing drives me to declare that television is the voice of Satan (two words–‘buy this’) and stomp off to a quieter place. Thank you, Senator Whitehouse. It may be a small thing, but so is a mosquito.

They Should’ve Talked to Sheldon Whitehouse

Bob Herbert in today’s NYT on USDA official Shirley Sherrod– an op-ed called, ‘Thrown to the Wolves’.

Ms. Sherrod was not even called into an office to be fired face to face. She got the shocking news in her car. “They called me twice,” she told The Associated Press. “The last time, they asked me to pull over to the side of the road and submit my resignation on my BlackBerry, and that’s what I did.”

This is brutal, and reflects badly on the Obama administration.

Someone should have talked to our Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. When he met with constituents at the Butcher Block Deli several months ago he was asked about defunding ACORN. This was at the height of the hysteria. He said that his time as an attorney general had given him a great regard for the principle of innocent until proved guilty. ACORN had its problems, but was hanged on trumped up evidence, it turned out.

You can’t keep your principles when you react to every news cycle. The more that comes out about Shirley Sherrod the more disgraceful this episode becomes.

In 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, there was a news story that some right-wing journalist was looking for examples of rich white people who died in that disaster. There were no such cases. At the time I was going to the ‘No Time to be Silent’ vigil on North Main Street in Providence, and took the microphone to sing a song I had been inspired to write–
‘Looking for Corpses in All the Wrong Places’.

Some people are desperately trolling for examples of black racism oppressing white people.

My minister gave me a good take on that. He said that the real harm comes from prejudice plus power. When prejudice can shut doors and systematically exclude millions of Americans from equal opportunity we need systemic reform.

Shirley Sherrod was probably collateral damage in a political game aimed at discrediting the NAACP and black people generally. Sadly, the point she was making when her words were taken out of context is that we need to look beyond our differences and recognize our common need for justice.

It will be our loss if she leaves public life. And Sheldon Whitehouse had it right, that everyone deserves a hearing.

Senator Whitehouse

Our own Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is praised on Washington Monthly blog.

But yesterday, Whitehouse didn’t hold back, blasting Senate Republicans for their “desperate, no-holds-barred mission of propaganda, falsehood, obstruction and fear.” He warned the GOP of a “day of judgment” by the electorate, which the senator said leaves Republicans “terrified.”

Whitehouse added, “When it turns out there are no death panels, when there is no bureaucrat between you and your doctor, when the ways your health care changes seem like a good deal to you, and a pretty smart idea, when the American public sees the discrepancy between what really is, and what they were told by the Republicans, there will be a reckoning. There will come a day of judgment about who was telling the truth.”

Glad I voted for him.

The bill we’re looking at is flawed and weak, and a huge disappointment, but I hope it passes. I was at a health reform demonstration, and a small business owner, middle-aged like me, said that Social Security and Medicare also started out small and weak. He hoped that passage would be a start, not the end of reform. I have to hope. There is no good alternative.

The present system is a mess that will get more expensive and exclusionary every year. But the proposed health care bill would come in as a mandate to buy into an insurance system that is dysfunctional. Dysfunctional, that is, in producing health over profits. It’s a painful dilemma.

I think the term ‘insurance reform’ led us down the wrong road. We don’t need insurance, we need access to health services. Insurance reform is a tiny step, I hope in the right direction.

I knew that Barack Obama would break my heart. It’s what politicians do. They politic. Expecting them not to is like expecting a dog not to bark. Politicians depend on the people to lead them. It would be a mistake to either think that the President will fix everything, or else that he has broken so many promises that we’ll just withdraw for four years.

The religious right does not wield power because our politicians are full of religious spirit– they wield power because they vote, and move votes.

Progressives have to do the same. Keep on calling, writing, blogging, demonstrating and especially–voting.

Senator Whitehouse Meets Constituents

Senator Whitehouse appeared at an informal community meeting October 16, at the Butcher Block Deli on Elmgrove Ave. in Providence. Present in the crowd were state reps, Rhoda Perry, Cliff Wood, David Segal and Seth Yurdin.

The cafe filled up a half hour before he arrived, the crowd was respectful, but focused. People came with questions about health care, the economy, Afghanistan and other issues.

On the public option, Sen. Whitehouse was supportive and optimistic that the final bill will include one.

He talked about bipartisanship, ‘chasing the ghost of bipartisanship’. Later, asked why the Democrats needed 60 votes to pass a health care bill he explained tactics, such as adding amendments, that could drag out the debate endlessly. He said that even cloture allows three days, which opponents of the bill would drag out to the last second, ‘burning up days’ that Congress needs for other urgent business. He favored getting the Democrats to support a bill and get it passed, and said when that happened Republicans would get on board. He said that cost-control measures would include wellness, preventive care, cutting hospital re-admission rates with improved discharge planning and electronic medical records. He cited ‘Safeway’ supermarket corporation as a model for a wellness program with voluntary incentives for healthy changes that cut costs of treatment.

He seemed disappointed that the White House was not demanding more concessions from the pharmaceutical industry. He referred to Medicare Part D and the ‘donut hole’ for drug coverage.

In response to a question about the banking crisis he said that re-regulation will be the big challenge. If it’s too big to fail it shouldn’t exist. There is bankruptcy protection for almost everything but home mortgages, and said he supported reforms that would allow homeowners to avoid eviction.

He said that the country is behind on essential infrastructure repair, such as water and sewer lines, estimated at 662 billion dollars that will have to be paid for sooner or later. He proposed ‘moving public spending’ to stimulate the economy by creating jobs today in a time of 13% unemployment rather than waiting.

He also said he supports a reporter shield law, of which he is a co-sponsor.

A young woman asked him about the ACORN controversy. Whitehouse said that the film shot by conservative activists was embarrassing, and no one in Congress wanted that fight, but he voted against censure because the response in Congress had ‘the odor of a stampede’. He said that he had served as attorney general and he is committed to due process, not conviction without a fair trial.

He compared another large, national organization, American Airlines. Recently several AA employees were arrested for using the airline to ship cocaine, but no rational person would demand that the airline be closed down because of the wrongdoing of a few employees.

‘I’ll defend my vote to anyone’, he said.

A man in a Vietnam Veterans cap asked him about the National Guard and credit for time deployed for veterans who served in a particular time period and the Senator thought the time would be credited, but referred the questioner to one of his aides to look up the specifics.

I left believing that the Senator will fight for a public option, but what that option will be remains to be seen. Stay tuned.

I would have placed a link here to the Providence Journal, but there isn’t one. Your roving reporter, nurse, artist multitasker may be the only source for this story, but if you have any other coverage, please send it here.