Jessie’s Law Passed by U.S. Senate

Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito, both of West Virginia, have announced that Jessie’s Law has been passed by the Senate. The legislation was designed to ensure doctors are provided with details of a patient’s previous substance abuse history if the patient has provided consent for the information to be shared. The bill will now proceed to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy and Commerce for consideration.

Jesse’s law is named after Jessica Grubb, from Michigan. Jessica was in recovery from opioid abuse when she underwent surgery for an unrelated issue. She had been struggling with addition for nearly seven years, but had not taken opioids for the 6 months prior to surgery.

Her parents, who were at the hospital while their daughter underwent surgery, had repeatedly told doctors not to prescribe opioids as painkillers unless their daughter was under the very strict supervision. Despite these warnings, her discharging physician gave her a prescription for 50 oxycodone tablets, a commonly-prescribed synthetic opioid. Jessica overdosed on the pills on the very night she was discharged, and died as a result. Her discharging doctor claims that he did not receive the information about her history of opioid use, and Jessica failed to inform him herself.

The bill, which was introduced by Sen. Manchin and co-sponsored by Capito, will ensure physicians are better informed about the medical histories of recovering addicts, while preserving the privacy of patients. The new bill states a “history of opioid use disorder should, only at the patient’s request, be prominently displayed in the medical records (including electronic health records).” The Department of Health and Human Services will be required to publish guidelines on the appropriate circumstances in which healthcare providers are permitted to prominently display details of a patient’s history of opioid use on their medical record.

Following the passing of the bill, Jessie’s mother Kate Grubb said, “I am ever so grateful for the passage of Jessie’s Law; it eases a mother’s aching heart that this law will save other lives and give meaning to Jessie’s death.”

Earlier this year, Congressmen Tim Murphy and Earl Blumenauer introduced a similar bill – The Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety (OPPS) Act (HR 3545). The bill is intended to align 42 Code of Federal Regulations Part 2 (Part 2) with HIPAA rules and will ensure doctors have access to their patients’ complete medical histories, including details of addiction treatment. Under current legislation, details of addiction treatment are prohibited from being shared with doctors. However, without access to full medical records, it is easy to see how what happened to Jessica could be repeated.

Rep. Murphy said, “The Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety Act will allow doctors to deliver optimal, lifesaving medical care, while maintaining the highest level of privacy for the patient.” Murphy also explained that while sharing sensitive information on substance use will help patients get the care they need; patient privacy must be protected. “We do not want patients with substance use disorders to be made vulnerable as a result of seeking treatment for addiction, this legislation strengthens protections of their records.”

The Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety Act reads, “Any record…that has been used or disclosed to initiate or substantiate any criminal charges against a patient or to conduct any investigation of a patient in violation of paragraphs (1) or (2), shall be excluded from evidence in any proposed or actual proceedings relating to such criminal charges or investigation and absent good cause shown shall result in the automatic dismissal of any proceedings for which the content of the record was offered.”

A coalition of more than 30 healthcare stakeholders wrote to Reps Murphy and Blumenauer to express support for the bill. In the letter, the coalition points out that while the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recently released a final rule that will modernize Part 2, the final rule does not go far enough.