March 06, 2017

Manchin Introduces Vet Connect Act to Reduce Opioid Abuse Among Veterans

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) today introduced the Vet Connect Act of 2017, which would streamline health records sharing between the Department of Veterans Affairs and community healthcare providers. Under current law, veterans being treated for drug abuse, alcoholism or alcohol abuse, infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), or sickle cell anemia must provide written consent to the VA in order to share their health records with their community providers. This onerous statutory requirement is the chief impediment to effective record sharing among VA healthcare providers.  

“We have a responsibility to our veterans to provide safe and effective pain management services and end the scourge of prescription drug addiction that too often overcomes them,” Senator Manchin said. “More than half a million VA patients are abusing opioids and VA patients overdose on prescription pain medication double the national average. While the VA has implemented programs to reduce opioid prescriptions and instituted some safety measures, it is obvious that more needs to be done. This commonsense legislation will help remove red tape that is preventing veterans from receiving the care they need.”

Without this consent, 97% of Veterans’ records are not available to the community providers that care for them. It’s important to note that this bill still requires the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to comply with HIPPA which prohibits the unauthorized sharing of sensitive patient medical records with outside parties. HIPPA is the federal law that establishes important safeguards for patient privacy including ensuring that a non-VA care provider has a right to and need for the information, applying minimum necessary principles, disclosing the information in a secure manner, informing the recipient of any re-disclosures restrictions and accounting or tracking the disclosure in a log. This commonsense legislation ensures that community providers are able to make well-informed clinical decisions based on a Veteran’s holistic medical history without violating federal patient privacy protections. This type of targeted information sharing is a crucial component in stemming the opioid epidemic by preventing overprescribing.