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HIPAA changes raise questions about privacy

Posted on 05-15-16 in Advocacy, Drug Addiction, Rehabilitation

HIPAA changes raise questions about privacy

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 was enacted to protect medical information in the age of computerized health care. The Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information (Privacy Rule) set national standards for the protection of certain health information. The Privacy Rule gave individuals privacy rights and control over how their information was used. Health care providers and insurance companies were tasked with implementing and maintaining the guidelines that HIPAA set forth.

Today, new HIPAA changes relating to the medical records of those undergoing treatment for drug or alcohol use are being implemented. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell announced the changes by stating that the rules 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.”

Although vague, the proposal announcement sounds positive but does not state what the rule entails. Further investigation reveals that a final rule was put into effect on Feb. 6, 2016, and another rule proposed days later on Feb. 9.

What are the new changes?

The final rule is entitled, “HIPAA Privacy Rule and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.” This rule allows for the records of those undergoing treatment for substance use disorders to be shared with criminal background databases to prevent them from obtaining a firearm.

The proposed rule is entitled “Confidentiality of Substance Use Disorder Patient Records.” This rule details conditions for which patient information can be disclosed and shared under such circumstances as medical emergencies, research, and audits and evaluations. Widespread audits and evaluations are planned to start this year.

Interestingly, the proposed rule also details how the government can place undercover agents posing as patients or employees into substance disorder treatment facilities. The rule also states that the government can hire existing patients or employees to serve as informants as long as no one affiliated with the program is aware that that they are undercover agents or informants. Comments on the proposed rule are now closed.

These regulations will apply to those patients who have applied or been given diagnosis, treatment or referral for treatment at a federally assisted treatment program or provider. These regulations would not apply to those who receive treatment from private treatment programs.

About us

The Sovereign Health Group is a leader in behavioral health and substance use treatment. All of our private facilities are fully confidential. We provide patient advocacy and legal services to all of our clients. We tirelessly strive to bring the newest, most effective treatments to clients struggling with mental illness, substance use disorders and dual diagnosis. Our multimodal diagnostic assessment and treatment approaches use the latest evidence-based strategies. After treatment, our continuing care program provides the long-term support patients need to fully recover from addiction and all of its consequences. To find out more about specialized programs at Sovereign Health, please call us at our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Dana Connolly, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer for the Sovereign Health Group, where she translates current research into practical information. She earned her Ph.D. in research and theory development from New York University and has decades of experience in clinical care, medical research and health education. The Sovereign Health Group is a health information resource and Dr. Connolly helps to ensure excellence in our model. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at