Pa. Legislature passes bills giving health care providers, insurance companies access to mental health records
HARRISBURG — A pair of bipartisan bills that would allow health care providers and insurers to access patients’ mental health records passed the state Senate on Thursday and is headed to Gov. Tom Wolf.
Currently, health care providers and insurance companies cannot access a patient’s mental health records unless the patient signs a waiver. Lawmakers said the new measures would bring state law in line with current holistic approaches to medicine.
Rep. Mike Schlossberg, a Lehigh County Democrat and co-sponsor of the bills, said they would bring mental and physical health out of their separate “silos” and make it easier for doctors to create comprehensive treatment plans.
Currently, if a patient in treatment for addiction is brought to an emergency room, Schlossberg said, the doctors wouldn’t know not to prescribe potentially addictive pain medications.
Mental health care providers have cited the difficulty of accessing records as a contributing factor to burnout, Schlossberg said.
He hopes easier access to records could help mitigate Pennsylvania’s shortage of health care providers.
Both bills passed the House unanimously. In the Senate, though, a handful of “no” votes were for the most part tied to patient confidentiality concerns.
Democratic state Sen. John Kane of Chester County had “major privacy concerns,” according to spokesperson Steve Warhola.
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“Senator Kane’s been in recovery for 38 years. In that community, we hold anonymity in the highest regard due to stigma associated with addiction,” Warhola said. “Under current law, patients already have the opportunity to consent to have their records shared.”
The Drug & Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania sent Kane a statement asking him to vote against the bill.
“Legislators need to be aware that patient treatment records contain extremely sensitive, often painful personal information about the patient as well as his or her family members including family drama, divorce, childhood trauma,” and sexual activity, the statement said.
State Sen. Christine Tartaglione, a Democrat from Philadelphia, voted against the bill because she feared that sharing mental health records with doctors and insurance companies could deter people from seeking treatment for addiction, according to a statement from her spokesperson.
Schlossberg said the senators’ concerns were “well-intended but misplaced.”
“Some of the allegations made against this bill were, quite frankly, borderline offensive,” Schlossberg said. “This just keeps us in line with HIPAA. And HIPAA has very robust, appropriately robust privacy protections.”
Christina Baker is an intern with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association.
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