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The District's Behavioral Health Law
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Over the past several years, it has become apparent that parts of the District of Columbia's mental health act have become problematic for patients and providers alike. The act, originally passed in 1978, has not been amended in recent years to account for changes in federal law. One such change was the 1996 passage of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which provides a number of privacy protections for patient medical records, including mental health records.

 

Realizing that the status quo in District law is not in the best interests of quality medical care, the Medical Society has played a critical role in addressing this critical gap in care coordination and the introduction of B21-007, "Behavioral Health Coordination of Care Amendment Act of 2015," amends the "District of Columbia Mental Health Information Act of 1978." On February 4, MSDC Chair Catherine S. May, MD, and President-elect Carla C. Sandy, MD, testified on a panel at a Public Hearing and submitted this testimony. The Medical Society continues to work with committee staff and propose amendments to balance the need for coordinated care without jeopardizing patient privacy.

Background on the Bill
Several years ago, legislation was introduced in the DC Council to amend the Mental Health Act to reflect HIPAA, but it was not passed. Last year, the Medical Society convened a meeting of interested stakeholders, including Kaiser Permanente, the DC Behavioral Health Association, Amerihealth, the DC Primary Care Association, MedStar Health and the DC Hospital Association, to discuss how best to secure passage of changes in the District’s Mental Health Act and bring it into conformity with HIPAA. The Medical Society and its counterparts raised this issue with Councilmember Yvette Alexander, Chair of the Council’s Committee on Health and Human Service, and Steve Baron, head ofthe District’s Department of Behavioral Health, and in January 2015, Councilmember Alexander introduced legislation to coordinate mental health care and address patient privacy concerns. The bill, B21-007, "Behavioral Health Coordination of Care Amendment Act of 2015," amends the "District of Columbia Mental Health Information Act of 1978" to permit the sharing of mental health information with other licensed health professionals to facilitate the coordination of services and care.

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