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HHS Proposes to Modernize Privacy Rules on Substance Abuse Records

February 5, 2016
by Heather Landi
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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) today proposed revisions to the privacy rules governing substance abuse medical records to facilitate health information exchange in support of delivery system reform.

HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced the proposed revisions to the Confidentiality of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Records regulations, 42 CFR Part 2. The proposed changes will be published in the Federal Register on Feb. 9, according to a HHS press release. The goal of the proposed changes, the agency said, is to facilitate information exchange with new health care models “while addressing the legitimate privacy concerns of patients seeking treatment for a substance use disorder.”

Due to its targeted population, the current regulations, often referred to as “Part 2,” provide more stringent federal protections for patients with substance use disorders records than most other health privacy laws, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). The current rules were enacted in 1975 and were last substantively updated in 1987.

“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,” Secretary Burwell said in a statement. “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.”

According to HHS, the agency is proposing to modernize the existing rules because new models are built on a foundation of information sharing to support coordination of patient care; the development of an electronic infrastructure for managing and exchanging patient data; and an increased focus on performance measurement and quality improvement within the health care system.  The agency noted in the press release that it “wants to ensure that patients with substance use disorders have the ability to participate in new integrated health care models without adverse consequences that could result from inappropriate disclosure of patient records.”

HHS is seeking comments on the proposed rule. Comments must be received by April 11.

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