Rep Tim Murphy (R-PA) and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) have reintroduced a new Mental Health law and HIPAA rules are likely to be affected. The new bill was unsuccessful last time around, but some major revisions and a clear need for change to privacy laws may see the bill become legislation this year.
The purpose of the bill is to ensure that the privacy of patients is protected but not to the detriment of their health. There are a number of barriers which are getting between care providers and patients, often with the worst possible consequences for the patient.
It is important to protect the privacy of all patients, but in certain areas mental healthcare requires some exceptions; the new mental health law and HIPAA must work together for the benefit of the patient.
Murphy has said that the new law is vital as the current legislation is “a chaotic patchwork of antiquated programs and ineffective policies across numerous agencies.” Murphy has invested a lot of time and effort into bringing about reform, and was heavily involved in a detailed investigation into the current laws intended to protect the privacy of mental health patients.
Two major changes to mental health laws will have an impact on HIPAA; the first relates to the disclosure of information relating to a patient, where the privacy of other individuals currently has potential to be violated. Patient notes can contain information about family members, in particular psychotherapy notes. These must be better protected and should not be disclosed along with other health records. The bill will improve protections in this regard.
The second major change is an easing of the laws governing the disclosure of patient records, making it easier for care providers to obtain important information about patients that will help to improve the care they are provided. In order to maintain privacy protections, the bill introduces a number of criteria which must first be satisfied before any PHI is released.
Disclosure must be necessary for the continuity of care, treatment or diagnosis of a patient or for providing medication. Information can be disclosed if it is for the benefit of the public, such as in case of contraction of highly infectious diseases such as Ebola.
Disclosure is possible if a mental illness affects an individual and his or her condition could deteriorate if treatment is not provided. In case of co-occurring acute or chronic medical illness, disclosure will be allowable in order to provide medication or other treatments.
If the criteria are satisfied, information can only be disclosed to an authorized person and the rule of minimum necessary information will apply.
It may be necessary for further amendments to be made to the bill in order for it to get past the senate, but Murphy believes the bill will be the start of a “new dawn for mental health care in America.” Even if some work is required to get the bill passed.