Disclosing Patient Substance Abuse Information, It’s Complicated!

By: Heather Miller

On February 5, the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) proposed changes to the Confidentiality of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Records regulations (42 CFR Part 2) “to facilitate information exchange within new health care models while addressing the legitimate privacy concerns of patients seeking treatment for a substance use disorder.” While HHS is proposing to modernize this archaic regulation so that providers can share information to better support, integrate and coordinate patient care, which would otherwise require patient consent to disclose, the revised regulation will have little benefit to substance abuse providers treating patients in Florida.

Many substance abuse providers are under the mistaken assumption that if they satisfy the requirements of HIPAA that they can disclose protected health information concerning a patient receiving treatment for a substance abuse disorder. There are two other laws, however – Florida Statute 397.501 and 42 CFR Part 2 (the “Code”) – that also govern the circumstances under which such information can be disclosed and which are much more restrictive than HIPAA. While it is positive news that HHS is seeking to modify the Code with respect to sharing patient information to align with advances in the U.S. health care delivery system, without a parallel change to Florida law and without both Florida law and the Code being modified to include other disclosure provisions, substance abuse providers will continue to have burdensome restrictions that frustrate their business purposes and the treatment of patients.


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