Clallam County letters support bills expanding treatment

PORT ANGELES — The Clallam County Commissioners have agreed to send a letter of support for two pieces of federal legislation that, if passed, would improve the ability of physicians to treat their patients with substance-use disorders and would expand access to behavioral health treatment nationwide, including Clallam County.

Commissioner Mark Ozias and Bill Peach approved the letters to U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray during their Tuesday business meeting. Commissioner Randy Johnson was not present.

The letters express support for Senate Bill 1012 and House Resolution 2062, nearly identical bills known respectively as the Protecting Jessica Grubb’s Legacy Act and the Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety Act.

Both bills have been introduced in their respective chambers and have been referred to committee.

The bills are “designed to align the confidentiality laws of Substance Use Disorder with the rest of the healthcare world,” the letters said. “The current law regulating the confidentiality of patients receiving SUD treatment … is far more restrictive than [the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] and is a primary impediment to the advancement of integrated care, which as you know has been mandated by the Washington State Legislature.”

The letter said it is challenging for doctors to appropriately treat patients whose prior treatment providers cannot share that patients have a substance use disorder.

“The current system also perpetuates the myth that substance-use disorder is not a ‘real’ medical condition, but something less,” the letter said.

The letters also express support for Senate Bill 286 and House Resolution 945, companion bills known as the Mental Health Access Improvement Act.

Currently only licensed clinical social workers can bill Medicare for behavioral health services.

“Licensed mental health counselors and licensed marriage and family therapists are equally (if not more) qualified to provide this care, but [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] does not acknowledge them as Medicare Providers,” the letters said.

“Each year an iteration of this bill passes either the house or the Senate but never both and until it is signed into law, patients in need of care will continue to encounter unacceptable barriers to treatment.”

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected] dailynews.com.

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