Pennsylvania Legislature Passes Bills Giving Health Care Providers and Insurance Companies Access to Mental Health Records

HARRISBURG — A pair of bipartisan bills that would allow health care providers and insurers access to patients’ mental health records passed the state Senate on Thursday and are headed for Governor 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 align state law with current holistic approaches to medicine.

Wolf has not committed to sign any of the of them billsbecause he hasn’t reviewed them yet, according to spokeswoman Beth Rementer.

Representative Mike Schlossberg, a Lehigh County Democrat and co-sponsor of the bills, said they would take 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 drug treatment is brought to the emergency room, Schlossberg said, doctors wouldn’t know not to prescribe potentially addictive painkillers.

Mental health care providers cited difficulty accessing records as a contributing factor to burnout, Schlossberg said.

He hopes easier access to records could help ease the shortage of healthcare providers in Pennsylvania.

Both bills were passed unanimously by the House. In the Senate, however, a handful of “no” votes were mostly related to patient privacy concerns.

Democratic State Senator John Kane of Chester County had “major privacy issues,” according to spokesman Steve Warhola.

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“Senator Kane has been in recovery for 38 years. In this community, we hold anonymity in high regard because of the stigma associated with addiction,” Warhola said. “Under current law, patients already have the ability to consent to their records being shared.”

The Drug & Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania sent Kane a statement asking him to vote against the bill.

“Legislators should be aware that patient treatment records contain extremely sensitive and often painful personal information about the patient as well as their family members, including family dramas, divorces, 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 his spokesperson.

Schlossberg said the senators’ concerns were “well-meaning but misplaced.”

“Some of the allegations against this bill were, quite frankly, borderline offensive,” Schlossberg said. “It keeps us in line with HIPAA. And HIPAA has very robust and robust enough privacy protections.

Christina Baker is an intern at the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association.

Kristan F. Talley