Bill Would Clarify HIPAA Privacy Rules

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Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, has introduced legislation to “elevate and formalize agency guidance on HIPAA privacy rules,” particularly as it pertains to patients with mental illness.

The Including Families in Mental Health Recovery Act (H.R. 2690) has been endorsed by the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, National Council for Behavioral Health, and National Disability Rights Network, among other stakeholder organizations.

“Healthcare providers and administrators have long lacked clarity on HIPAA rules and thus have been cautious to share information with family members and caregivers of patients,” said Matsui in a written statement. “This lack of clarity creates significant challenges to patients, their doctors and family. Sharing the right information with the right family and caregivers can help a patient, while still protecting their privacy. Assisting family and caregivers with being involved in a patient’s care can be of the utmost importance, and can even mean life or death.”

Although the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights issued guidance in February 2014 on the topic, Matsui argues that “better understanding and awareness of the guidance will give providers the confidence to practice discretion in delicate situations, to best determine whether it is in an individual’s best interest to share information with family members and caregivers on a case-by-case basis.”

Also See: Bill Would Expand Meaningful Use to Mental Health Providers

According to John Snook, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center,HIPAA privacy rules were never intended to prevent people from receiving necessary medical care. “But we hear from families every day who are kept in the dark about their loved one’s treatment because of confusion and uncertainty around the requirements of HIPAA,” Snook said. “We applaud Congresswoman Matsui for seeking a solution that will safeguard necessary confidentiality while ensuring families can share and receive critical information during a psychiatric crisis.”

Rusty Selix,executive director of the Mental Health Association of California and executive director of the California Council of Community Mental Health Agencies, added: “Government officials, healthcare providers and administrators have long lacked clarity and thus have been cautious to allow sharing of information that they fear might violate the HIPAA privacy law in regards to sharing health information with family members and caregivers of patients. This legislation will provide the education to eliminate the lack of clarity and give providers and administrators the confidence to share information with family members whose support is needed in crisis situations.” 

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