Congress Moving Ahead to Take Away Privacy and Consent in Matters of Substance Abuse


Congress Moving Ahead to Take Away Privacy and Consent in Matters of Substance Abuse

Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom: Lawmakers Want to Share Substance Abuse Treatment Data Without Patient Consent; Patients Should Enjoy Protections in All Health Matters, But HIPAA Stripped That Privacy Away

PAUL, Minn.—Patient privacy, when it comes to sensitive medical information, is almost a thing of the past—thanks to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) “no-privacy rule,” says Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom (CCHF).But one area that has remained private is data concerning substance abuse, currently kept separate from most medical records to protect patients.

That could soon change. S. 581, which calls for the rollback of restrictions on a 46-year-old law that currently keeps information about drug and alcohol treatment private passed in August 2017. In September 2017, Senator Manchin introduced a new Senate bill (S. 1850) to do the same thing. A similar House bill (H.R. 1554) authored by Rep. Tim Walberg is also in the works. A bipartisan congressional task force has included the initiative, sometimes called “Jessie’s Law,” in its 2018 legislative agenda.

This is alarming, CCHF says, because the new measures would allow broad sharing of this sensitive information. Not only should the law not move forward, but the stringent restrictions on releasing drug and alcohol treatment details should be expanded and extended to all patients regarding everything in their medical records, says CCHF president and co-founder Twila Brase.

“CCHF first reported on this legislation in January, and now it seems to be gaining steam,” Brase said. “Lawmakers appear committed to ending patient consent requirements, but this should not happen.” 

According to an article on Bloomberg Law, the national opioid crisis is causing Congress to grapple with some privacy questions, namely if information about substance abuse should be included with the rest of a patient medical records, which in turn, would open that information to scrutiny by innumerable entities.

But Brase says rolling substance abuse records into other medical data will not only compromise the privacy of these vulnerable patients, it will also strip away one of the last bastions of privacy and patient consent that still exists.

“Currently, those with substance abuse data in their medical records must physically sign a consent form for it to be released to anyone else,” she added. “This should be the case for all patients regarding all medical information. But instead, HIPAA is a permissive disclosure rule allowing most information to be shared for many purposes without patient consent. HIPAA is not a privacy rule, but most Americans don’t know that.”

For more information about CCHF, visit, its Facebook page or its Twitter feed @CCHFreedom. Also view the media page for CCHF here. For more about CCHF’s initiative The Wedge of Health Freedom, visit www.JointheWedge.comThe Wedge Facebook page or follow The Wedge on Twitter @wedgeoffreedom.