The Health Subcommittee of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing last week to consider two bills addressing current limits on the sharing of mental health information under HIPAA.  The first bill, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015 (H.R. 2646), was introduced by Representative Tim Murphy.  H.R. 2646 seeks to expand the circumstances under which protected information about a patient with a serious mental illness can be shared with family members and caregivers.  Under the bill, a physician would be permitted to share diagnoses, treatment plans, medications and other protected health information with a family member or a caregiver of a patient with a serious mental illness if certain conditions are met, including that the disclosure be necessary for the continuing treatment of the individual and necessary to protect the health, safety or welfare of the individual or the general public.  The bill also seeks to expand the ability to share mental health-related information of students under FERPA and proposes several other mental health care-related reforms.  A previous version of the bill was introduced by Representative Murphy after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

The second bill, the Including Families in Mental Health Recovery Act of 2015 (H.R. 2690), was introduced by Representative Doris Matsui.  H.R. 2690 seeks to formalize guidance issued in 2014 by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR) on sharing protected health information of patients being treated for a mental health condition.  That guidance, presented in question-and-answer format, addresses frequently asked questions regarding HIPAA restrictions on sharing mental health information with a patient’s family members and caregivers, and with law enforcement.  Currently, the guidance does not have the force of law but provides insight on how OCR reviews matters involving the disclosure of mental health information.  We will follow the journey of these two bills and keep you updated.