Opioid bill passed by House, Senate gets mixed reviews

The Senate earlier this week passed opioid legislation that improves access to telehealth and medication-assisted treatment as well as the coordination of prescription drug monitoring programs.

The Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act, which was approved last week by the House, has been sent to President Trump for his signature.

“I applaud Congress for its extraordinary bipartisan effort and steadfast commitment to mobilizing the largest legislative effort in history to address the opioid crisis,” said Trump, who indicated that he is looking forward to signing the bill into law. “The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (H.R. 6) makes important investments that will lift people out of addiction, help keep illicit drugs out of our communities, expand public awareness and prevention initiatives to stop addiction before it starts and save lives.”

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President Barack Obama delivers a health care address to a joint session of Congress at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., Sept. 9, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

The House and Senate’s passage of the legislation was praised by Health IT Now, a coalition of patient groups, provider organizations, employers and payers, which launched the Opioid Safety Alliance (OSA) in January—along with IBM, Intermountain Healthcare, McKesson, Oracle and Walgreens—to advance a health IT-centric policy agenda to combat the opioid epidemic.

"We are grateful to lawmakers for including OSA-endorsed language in this bill to remove bureaucratic barriers to vital telehealth services for those suffering from addiction, modernize prescribing practices for controlled substances, incentivize the uptake of electronic health records and streamline prior authorization claims to improve efficiency while enhancing patient safety,” said HITN OSA Executive Director Joel White.

Likewise, the American Hospital Association said that the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act will provide hospitals with “needed tools and resources to better care for patients with substance use disorders (SUD) and to prevent further addiction.”

However, the AHA also noted that the legislation does not include a provision for sharing patients’ SUD treatment information.

“We are deeply disappointed that the agreement excludes a critical provision passed overwhelmingly by the House to allow the responsible sharing of patients’ substance use disorder treatment information in accordance with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations,” said Tom Nickels, AHA’s executive vice president. “Current law (42 CFR Part 2) undermines the ability of providers to effectively coordinate care for patients with SUDs.”

The College of Healthcare Information Management Executives also said it was “extremely disappointed” that the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act did not include the language aligning 42 CFR Part 2 with HIPAA.

“So many of the other provisions of this important bill hinge on being able to share data as interoperability is key in thwarting this epidemic,” said Russell Branzell, president and CEO of CHIME. “Alignment was one obvious step that Congress can and should take. Our members believe that having access to the data that would be possible if 42 CFR Part 2 and HIPAA were aligned would save lives.”

Also See: Commission calls for integrated data environment to combat opioid crisis

More than 40 years ago, Congress passed 42 CFR Part 2 because of concerns about the potentially negative consequences—including discrimination—that could come from disclosing the patient records of individuals with substance use disorders.

However, a 2017 report from the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis criticized the law for being a hindrance to comprehensive healthcare and called it misguided for preventing doctors from knowing their patients’ addiction treatment histories.

“We remain committed to the passage of legislation that eliminates the statutory barriers to optimal care for our patients,” added AHA’s Nickels.

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