A new Senate mental health bill (S 1945) would relax a federal law that regulates the sharing of paper and electronic health records for patients with substance misuse issues, Modern Healthcare reports.
Earlier this month, Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) introduced the Mental Health Reform Act of 2015.
The bill aims to reform the behavioral health care delivery system by integrating physical and mental health services.
In addition, the legislation would “streamline” the requirements of 42 Code of Federal Regulations Part 2, a privacy law that covers thousands of federally funded drug and alcohol misuse treatment facilities.
Under the law, providers are required to obtain consent before sharing patients‘ records. Providers must comply with the prior consent requirement every time records are transferred.
S 1945 aims to ease that rule to facilitate record sharing between behavioral health and general health providers.
Specifically, the bill would allow patients covered by 42 CFR Part 2 to give their consent on paper or electronically once, rather than each time their records are disclosed. The consent would last for a year unless withdrawn by the patient.
Further, the measure would authorize disclosure of patients’ records to all providers within:
- An accountable care organization;
- A home health or other integrated-care arrangement; and
- A health information exchange.
Mental Health America, which has not endorsed the bill, said it supports some of its provisions. However, it has advocated for a full repeal of 42 CFR Part 2 instead of the bill’s current relaxation of the law.
Mental Health America CEO Paul Gionfriddo said, “Our position is you can’t treat a whole person with a partial record,” noting that the organization supports more shared information.
Meanwhile, Renee Popovits, principal attorney at Popovits & Robinson, said the bill should “balance the exchange of information with some enhanced patient protections,” adding, “If you relax certain standards on consent, you have to have the additional protections on the other side.”
For example, she said penalties for violating the law could be increased to match those of HIPAA. According to Modern Healthcare, penalties under 42 CFR Part 2 are capped at $5,000, while HIPAA levies penalties up to $50,000 per violation and prison time up to 10 years for extreme cases (Conn,Modern Healthcare, 8/21).