HELP unanimously approves opioid bill

April 25, 2018

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee this week unanimously approved The Opioid Response Act of 2018: some 40 measures aimed at addressing the nation’s opioid epidemic. The bill’s sponsors — Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray, the panel’s chair and senior Democrat — said they hope to move the bill to the Senate floor by this summer.

In a joint letter to Sen. Murray, WSHA and the Washington State Medical Association (WSMA) said we are very supportive “of the legislation’s current focus and direction.” We cited the bill’s additional funding for prescription drug monitoring programs, increasing access to medication-assisted treatment, and improving data collection and research. 

However, WSHA and WSMA expressed disappointment with the bill’s failure to “modernize substance use disorder privacy laws.” The bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services to develop best practices for prominently displaying information about a patient’s history of opioid abuse in electronic health records when requested by the patient.  

WSHA and other hospital groups have called for aligning 42 CFR Part 2, which governs disclosure of information about patients who have undergone substance use disorder treatment, with the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which governs patients’ medical records.  

“The requirements of 42 CFR Part 2 often prevent the sharing of patient information needed to deliver effective and coordinated patient care,” WSHA and WSMA said in the letter. “Aligning 42 CFR Part 2 with the HIPAA rules would facilitate appropriate information sharing while safeguarding patient information from unwarranted disclosure.” 

Among its other provisions, the bill would make it easier to prescribe smaller packs of opioids for limited durations, spur the development of non-addictive painkillers and bolster detection of illegal drugs at the border. (John Flink, WSHA Federal Lobbyist) 


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