Healthcare groups urge Congress to address patient privacy regulations in final opioid package

More than 100 healthcare organizations are calling on Congress to address privacy concerns that can hinder addiction care in its opioids package.

The Senate passed a large set of measures aimed at the addiction crisis earlier this week, but that version of the legislation did not include changes to 42 Code of Federal Regulations Part 2, a confidentiality statute that addiction experts say can hinder care coordination and patient access.

In the letter (PDF), the groups—which include the American Hospital Association, The Joint Commission, Cerner and Optum, alongside a slew of others—call for Congress to include a provision that would align the Part 2 regulation with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

“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.

RELATED: Advocacy groups say better data sharing, consistent privacy laws will help control opioid prescribing

Kelly Clark, M.D., president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, another group that’s signed on to the letter, told FierceHealthcare that the decades-old Part 2 regulation is “obsolete” in modern medicine.

If clinicians can’t share information with one another about a patient’s treatment plan, it could prevent that person from receiving the appropriate care at the right time, she said.

“Care has changed,” Clark said.

“It’s really time for us to rethink” these older restrictions and regulations, she said.

The federal government has taken some steps to ease the Part 2 restrictions in the wake of the opioid epidemic. A rule from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which was finalized in January, allowed patients to sign a disclosure that would apply to all providers, when previously sharing data might require multiple disclosures.

RELATED: New HIPAA guidance clarifies data sharing for mental health and substance abuse patients

A House bill that would align Part 2 with HIPAA passed in that chamber by a vote of 357-57, so the issue enjoys bipartisan supports, according to the letter.

Clark said that there’s plenty for addiction experts and providers to approve of in the package the Senate approved Monday night—such as elements that focus on evidence-based care and improving patient access to treatments—but addressing the privacy regulations as well is a crucial strategy for combating the opioid epidemic.