By Leslie Small

A recent federal proposal — which would loosen privacy rules surrounding substance use disorder (SUD) treatment — is being applauded by health insurer trade groups. But some advocates are worried about potential harms to patients.

At the center of the debate is legislation enacted in the 1970s and the subsequent regulations implementing that law, known as 42 CFR Part 2, which was designed to protect the confidentiality of SUD patient records created by federally funded treatment programs. Under the proposed changes to 42 CFR Part 2, opioid treatment programs would be able to enroll in state prescription drug monitoring programs and submit the dispensing data for controlled substances consistent with applicable state laws. SUD patients also would be able to consent to disclosure of their Part 2 treatment records to an entity, without having to name a specific person.

“At the highest level, ACHP does see the proposed rule as a positive development,” says Connie Hwang, M.D., chief medical officer of the Alliance of Community Health Plans. When an individual is undergoing treatment for SUD, “you want to make sure that all the other groups engaged in the ongoing care are aware and don’t inadvertently interfere with that or put the patient at greater danger,” she adds.

However, not everyone shares that view.

“While the Legal Action Center strongly supports the need for coordinated flow of health information between providers, it must be done so with patient consent in disclosure and re-disclosure,” Paul Samuels, president and director of the advocacy group, said in a news release.

The current privacy rules are “a necessary protection for individuals who would otherwise be susceptible to a multitude of detrimental consequences if their SUD information was disclosed without their permission to potential employers, housing providers, law enforcement and more,” Samuels added.