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Second Opinion

Learn about policy issues important to medical schools and teaching hospitals, with Executive Vice President Atul Grover, M.D., Ph.D.

Washington Highlights

House Subcommittee Examines HIPAA Barriers to Mental Health Care

May 3, 2013—The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations convened an April 26 hearing to review how privacy provisions under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) may hamper timely patient care, particularly for patients with severe mental illness.

Subcommittee Chair Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) opened the hearing explaining that the subcommittee planned to “examine the ways in which federal privacy laws, beginning with whether HIPAA, applied properly or improperly, interferes with the quality of patient care or compromises public safety or both.”

Describing “considerable anxiety on the part of providers,” Chairman Murphy noted, “Fearful of new penalties for violating HIPAA, doctors and nurses were refusing to even talk about a patient’s illness with ... caretakers, spouses, siblings, or those managing the affairs of their elderly parent.”  He continued, “Our goal with this hearing is to peel away the numerous layers of misinformation surrounding HIPAA so that we can ensure patients are getting the right treatment and the public is kept safe.”

Ranking Member Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) also described “incorrect assumptions” about the privacy protections, and praised recent efforts by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)’s Office of Civil Rights to clarify for health professionals their ability to disclose information to law enforcement or family under certain circumstances.

Emphasizing that she “won’t blindly defend HIPAA today,” Rep. DeGette also acknowledged concerns among patient advocates that the “Committee will undermine HIPAA’s vital privacy protection.” She responded, “I want to assure them I have no intention of undermining important privacy protections.”

The subcommittee heard testimony from two panels of witnesses representing HHS, health care providers, and family members of patients with mental illness.

Contact:

Tannaz Rasouli
Sr. Director, Public Policy & Strategic Outreach
Telephone: 202-828-0525
Email: trasouli@aamc.org

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Jason Kleinman
Sr. Legislative Analyst, Govt. Relations
Telephone: 202-903-0806
Email: jkleinman@aamc.org