HIPAA Journal is the leading provider of news, updates, and independent advice for HIPAA compliance

HHS Proposes Rule Change to Facilitate Sharing of Substance Abuse Data

On Friday February 9, 2016., a proposed rule change was published in the federal register by the Department of Health and Human Services. The proposed rule change aims to improve the sharing of health information of patients diagnosed with or seeking treatment for alcohol and drug dependency. The proposed rule change applies to 42 CFR Part 2: The Confidentiality of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Records regulations.

New integrated health care models will incentivize healthcare providers who put patients at the center of their care; however current restrictions on the sharing of health data of patients seeking treatment for drug and alcohol abuse does not fit in with the new models.

The rules covering the privacy of patients suffering from drug and alcohol abuse were first promulgated in 1975, and while they were updated in 1987, little has changed since. Patients covered by “Part 2” rules receive stronger privacy protections than are stipulated in HIPAA.

When the regulations were introduced there was concern that the sharing of drug and alcohol abuse data could potentially discourage individuals from seeking treatment out of fear that the information could be used against them.

Get The Checklist

Free and Immediate Download
HIPAA Compliance Checklist

Delivered via email so verify your email address is correct.

Your Privacy Respected

HIPAA Journal Privacy Policy

Should that information be revealed to the wrong people, individuals may be discriminated against and could potentially lose their jobs, have to find alternative accommodation, lose custody of their children, be arrested, or face prosecution. Under the current legislation, patients can consent to their data being shared, but their healthcare provider must advise the patient who those data will be shared with.

The proposed rule change will make it possible for patients to give general consent to share their health information, including the fact they are being treated for substance or alcohol abuse, although the new rule would still require consent to be obtained from patients prior to the treatment of a substance-abuse disorder being disclosed.

Under the new proposed rule, patients could sign a general consent form which would allow their health information to be shared with other entities, if permissible under other laws. IT is hoped that this would improve the sharing of patient data, necessary as part of the new healthcare models, while still protecting the privacy of patients.

The HHS believes the changes are essential to help improve population health, improve the quality of healthcare services, while driving down the cost of providing those services. According to HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell, “This proposal will help patients with substance use disorders fully participate and benefit from a health care delivery system that’s better, smarter and healthier, while protecting their privacy.”

The 144-page proposed rule can be viewed on this link and will be open to public comment for 60 days. All comments must be submitted prior to the 5pm deadline on April 11, 2016., in order to be considered by HHS and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Author: Steve Alder is the editor-in-chief of HIPAA Journal. Steve is responsible for editorial policy regarding the topics covered on HIPAA Journal. He is a specialist on healthcare industry legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA and other related legal topics. Steve has developed a deep understanding of regulatory issues surrounding the use of information technology in the healthcare industry and has written hundreds of articles on HIPAA-related topics.