What Are the Confidentiality Laws Regarding Counseling for Addiction?

When you visit your doctor’s office, you probably know that before you receive treatment, you must sign paperwork regarding your privacy and rights. You also have the option to appoint another individual to have access to your medical information if necessary. But when you enter the realm of drug treatment, confidentiality becomes especially important. While no one should ever feel ashamed or embarrassed to seek treatment for an addiction, the reality is that having a public record of current or past treatment for substance abuse and drug addiction can affect everything from your personal life to your professional life, including your chances of getting hired for a job. Fortunately, there are laws in place to protect your rights and help you get the treatment you or a loved one needs without the stigma.

Protection Under Federal Law

While laws and regulations for drug treatment is established at the state level, federal laws protect the privacy of individuals who enroll in drug treatment programs. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) notes the there are two main laws that govern health care related to substance abuse. These laws include:

Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (or HIPAA)
Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Records Privacy Law

The first law, HIPAA, was created in 1996. It was later amended in 2002 to give consumers more transparency into their healthcare rights and protection of classified personal information. HIPAA establishes certain privacy rights for anyone who receives professional healthcare, which includes care for physical and psychological problems, as well as for substance abuse. A separate component of HIPAA, which is called “Implications for Alcohol and Substance Abuse Programs” was established in 2004. This rule, which specifically addresses privacy rights related to substance abuse, provides clarity on the programs required to abide by HIPAA.

The second law, which is called the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Records Privacy Law, is listed in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) as Title 42: Part 2. This regulation provides restrictions regarding the dissemination of information regarding drug and substance abuse counseling. This law provides information on the privacy rights that patients have in both a diagnosis of a substance abuse disorder and requisite treatment that he or she receives. This law provides instructions for healthcare providers, including substance abuse counselors, about how they can make sure they and their facility comply with federal privacy laws. In 2010, an updated version of the law was created to help make the law more accessible and transparent to healthcare providers and consumers on the healthcare information exchange.

Sharing Healthcare Information

In addition to having privacy rights protected by federal laws, patients also have the right to control who has access to their healthcare information. This means that patients have the right to either assign access information to trusted individuals at any time permitting them access to their healthcare information or revoke their right to view confidential information. Either way, any modification made to an initial consent form must be done in writing and formally approved by a healthcare provider. This change of information can also be completed electronically on the Health Information Exchange (or “HIE”). Once a patient declares a desire to make changes to access rights, those changes are effective immediately once the paperwork has been signed.

Sharing Select Information With Others

Sometimes, people only want specific aspects of their healthcare to be shared with others. For instance, a person might authorize a family member to know about his or her physical health but want to keep information about mental healthcare or substance abuse counseling private. Under federal law, this right is protected too.

What Happens When Healthcare Companies Merge?

Healthcare companies dissolve, merge, and restructure all the time. Patients and their loved ones are often left wondering what happens to their privacy rights and confidentiality agreements as a result? There are many legal issues that merging companies have to work out as a result of their unification. One is whether or not to allow a consent form to remain valid. Companies have the right to decide this information on an individual basis. Your healthcare provider will tell you whether or not you need to resign and resubmit consent forms.

Getting substance abuse treatment is hard enough, but having to deal with the stress of insurance, legal rights, and privacy creates more anxiety. Before you or a loved one seeks help, be prepared by knowing what rights you have as an individual seeking treatment. If you have questions, need more information, or you’re ready to get started with substance abuse counseling, don’t hesitate to contact us today at 844-639-8371!

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