- The HHS on Monday released a proposed rule designed to increase privacy protections covering medical records while improving care coordination among providers for patients with substance use disorders. The policy would implement provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act requiring confidentiality protections for substance use disorder treatment records to align more closely with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act privacy rules.
- Better alignment with HIPAA will support more effective coordination for people accessing care, Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, head of HHS’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said in a statement. “At the same time, the proposed rule mitigates the discrimination and stigma that we know too often people with SUDs experience,” Delphin-Rittmon said.
- The American Hospital Association is among organizations that pushed for the changes, including one that would enable providers to get a patient’s consent just once to share substance use records for treatment and healthcare operations.
The HHS has been working to modernize its regulations governing the records of patients treated for substance use disorders, which the agency has said affect 15% of U.S. adults.
In a prior rule finalized in August 2020, the HHS said the devastating consequences of the opioid crisis had resulted in an unprecedented spike in overdose deaths related to both prescription and illegal opioids including heroin and fentanyl.
The crisis has increased demand for SUD treatment services and put more pressure on the treatment system, the HHS said. The 2020 rule update sought to account for advances in the healthcare delivery system such as the development of integrated healthcare models, growing use of electronic platforms to exchange patient information and new laws and regulations that more broadly protect patient data.
Current regulations impose different requirements for SUD record protection than HIPAA, which can create barriers to information sharing by patients and healthcare providers as well as compliance challenges, the HHS said. The new rule is meant to be more flexible, in line with the intent of the CARES Act, the agency said.
Among the changes proposed, the rule would allow patients to give consent just once to permit disclosure of records for all future uses for treatment, payment and healthcare operations. Patients could obtain an accounting of disclosures and request restrictions on certain disclosures. The rule also would give the HHS new enforcement authority to impose monetary penalties for violations of privacy rules.
“Varying requirements of privacy laws can slow treatment, inhibit care, and perpetuate negative stereotypes about people facing substance use challenges,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said. “This proposed rule would improve coordination of care for patients receiving treatment while strengthening critical privacy protections to help ensure individuals do not forego life-saving care due to concerns about records disclosure.”
The HHS will accept comments for the next 60 days.