H.R. 6082, the Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety Act, recently introduced by Oklahoma Congressional Representative Markwayne Mullin (R) proposes to weaken the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA) by eliminating SUD patient’s current legal right and ability to consent to disclose their treatment information for “treatment, payment, and health care operations.” Under H.R. 6082, this sensitive information would be allowed to be disclosed to and shared with health plans, health care providers, and other entities without the patient’s knowledge and consent. HIPPA authorizes disclosure of SUD patient records without a patient’s written consent only to medical personnel in a medical emergency, to specified personnel for research or program evaluations, or through a court order.
Many in the SUD community have voiced their concerns and strong opposition to H.R. 6082. Treatment Communities of America (TCA), CAADPE’s national affiliate, warns that “…the bill represents a step back from the protections that patients in this very vulnerable population currently possess, and the risks and harm that can be done to patients is greater than the purported benefits that would be gained were the bill to become law.”
According to SAMHSA (the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), there are profound negative consequences that can result from the disclosure of an individual’s substance use disorder treatment record, including loss of employment, loss of housing, loss of child custody, discrimination by medical professionals and insurers, arrest, prosecution, and incarceration. Sharing sensitive information about a patient’s drug treatment is a tremendous reversal and erosion of the protections that SUD patients currently possess, and has the potential to do tremendous harm in the midst of an opioid epidemic already claiming the lives of over 50,000 Americans each year. If patients fear that their treatment records will be used to criminally investigate or prosecute them, or to deny them a job or insurance, or be used against them in a child custody proceeding, they are unlikely to seek treatment in the first place.
CAADPE along with other state and national organizations strongly support maintaining the current core protections for SUD information for these key reasons:
- The heightened privacy protections are as critical today as they were when they were they were enacted more than 40 years ago, and must be preserved.
- In the midst of the worst opioid epidemic in nation’s history, we must do everything possible to increase–not decrease–the number of people who seek treatment.
- SUD is unique among medical conditions because of its criminal and civil consequences and the rampant discrimination people face.
- With so much at stake, patients in SUD treatment should retain the right to consent when and to whom their records are disclosed, as currently found in Part 2.
- Effective integration of SUD treatment with the rest of the healthcare system is critically important, and information exchange in accordance with confidentiality law and current technology is now possible. To facilitate that process, SAMHSA recently amended the Part 2 regulations to further promote the integration of confidential SUD information into general health records.
H.R. 6082 was approved by the House of Representatives 357-57 (to see how your representative voted: http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2018/roll278.xml) and is now in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions for consideration.