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HHS seeks to modify stringent privacy rules on substance-abuse treatment records


The Department of Health and Human Services wants to revise a stringent federal rule governing the privacy of medical records of drug, alcohol abuse and many behavioral health patients.

The proposed rule seeks modifications to 42 CFR Part 2, 1970s-era regulations that, under most circumstances, require patient consent before their records can be shared with another provider. The rule contrasts markedly from the other key federal privacy rule, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which does not require patient consent for a provider to disclose patient records for treatment, payment or other health care operations.

HHS wants to develop an infrastructure for managing and exchanging patient data and an increased focus on performance measurement and quality improvement within the health care system, according to a press release announcing the changes.

“We are moving Medicare, and the health care system as a whole, toward new integrated care models that incentivize providers to coordinate and put the patient at the center of their care, and we are modernizing our rules to protect patients,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said.

The goal, HHS said, is to allow patients with patients with substance use disorders to participate in “new integrated healthcare models without adverse consequences that could result from inappropriate disclosure of patient records.”

The proposed rule release comes nearly 21 months after Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at HHS issued a call for feedback on possible revisions to 42 CFR Part 2.

Public comment period on the proposed rule is open until April 11. The rules were last changed in 1987.

Joseph Conn writes for Modern Healthcare, a sister publication of Business Insurance.