CHA News Article

Substance Use Privacy Rules to Be Revised

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) have issued the attached proposed rule updating regulations that govern the confidentiality of substance use disorder records. The proposed changes are intended to facilitate electronic exchange of substance use disorder information for treatment and other legitimate health care purposes while ensuring appropriate privacy protections for records that might identify an individual as having had a substance use disorder. Comments on the proposed rule are due April 11.

The regulations apply to “federally-assisted substance use disorder programs.” This definition includes chemical dependency recovery hospitals and other specialty programs, but does not include general medical facilities (such as hospitals) except to the extent that a general medical facility has an identified unit that holds itself out as providing substance use disorder diagnosis or treatment, or if the primary function of medical personnel is the provision of such services. Therefore, many hospitals have not been required to comply with these regulations. However, hospitals and other health care providers have had difficulty obtaining vital information about their patients from substance use disorder programs due to the strict confidentiality requirements.

Under current regulations, a federally-assisted program may release identifiable information only with the individual’s express and specific consent. The proposed rule would allow patients to complete a general release of information form, which would permit the substance use disorder program to release information to other health care providers for purposes of diagnosis and treatment. This is an important step to allow patients to participate in health care delivery models that meaningfully integrate physical health, mental health and substance use disorder services.

The proposed rules also include several provisions that mirror HIPAA requirements – for example, a requirement for federally-assisted programs to develop and implement formal policies and procedures about security, an accounting of disclosure requirement and provisions about research.

CHA will keep members apprised of the development of these rules. CHA’s California Health Information Privacy Manual contains detailed information about state and federal health information privacy laws, including federal substance abuse program regulations. For more information or to order, visit