by Kate Fitch
The Murphy Bill seeks to expand HIPAA privacy exceptions to an unreasonable extent for people with mental illness.
Privacy laws as they exist now already allow for the disclosure of protected health information under emergency circumstances and when the patient is unable to consent or object to the disclosure. This is an appropriate balance of protecting the privacy of individuals with mental health conditions and involving family in certain circumstances.
Under the Murphy Bill, however, this protected health information would be disclosed if “it would be beneficial to the treatment of the individual.” To whom would the information be disclosed? A caregiver, who is defined in the bill as “a family member or past legal guardian who has assumeda primary responsibility for providing a basic need.” This would mean that anyone in the family of the individual who has in some context provided support would have access to protected health information if the care provider believes it would be beneficial!
This is far, far too broad. For several reasons:
- Care providers in acute psychiatric settings could disclose information to a relative who is abusive, exploitative, or otherwise unsuitable to be involved in the care of an individual under these new allowances.
- The allowance completely erodes the therapeutic relationship. Incredibly personal and private information is necessary to disclose in order to receive an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. If people feel that this information has the potential to get out, they are certainly less likely to disclose it in the first place.
- People with mental illness are the ONLY group proposed to be an “exception” to basic privacy laws.
On the last point – why us? Frankly, it’s because Tim Murphy mistakenly believes that we are literally unable to understand our own illnesses and need the involvement of a family member to help us “understand.” It is completely insulting and absolutely undermines the progress we have made in strengths-based, recovery-oriented care.