Senators urge HHS to update rule on substance use disorder records

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Thirteen members of the U.S. Senate are calling for the removal of decades-old regulations preventing doctors from knowing patient addiction treatment histories.

The lawmakers sent a letter this week to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, urging him to initiate a rulemaking process to modernize the Confidentiality of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Records, 42 Code of Regulations 2 (42 CFR Part 2).

“A lack of access to the full scope of medical information for each patient can result in the inability of providers and organizations to deliver safe, high-quality treatment and care coordination,” according to the letter to Azar from the senators. “The barriers presented by Part 2 can result in the failure to integrate services and can lead to potentially dangerous medical situations for patients.”

Also See: Feds issue guidance on substance abuse confidentiality law

Congress passed 42 CFR Part 2 more than 40 years ago 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, the senators contend that the antiquated law prevents lifesaving medical care for patients in trying to recover from addiction.

“Part 2 provisions are not compatible with the way healthcare is delivered currently,” states the letter. “In order to bring them in line with 21st century medicine, it is imperative to modernize the regulations. Initiating a rulemaking process will open the door for necessary reforms, allowing for better coordination, safer and more effective treatment for patients, and stronger patient protections.”

In their letter, the senators mention the fact that in 2018 the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety (OPPS) Act, which would align 42 CFR Part 2 with HIPAA—for the purposes of treatment, payment, and healthcare operations—enabling access to patient information while protecting the data with penalties for unlawful disclosure and use.

While the bill was referred last year to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, the OPPS Act has not advanced in that legislative body.

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