Senate Committee Embraces Digital Health in Opioid Crisis Response Act

April 26, 2018

By: Doriann Cain, Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting

This week the United States Senate Committee on Health Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) continued to add its weight to bicameral efforts to advance digital health tools as an important component in curtailing the opioid epidemic. The 23-member committee held a markup of the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 on Tuesday, April 24, and voted unanimously in favor to advance the legislation to the full Senate. This Act, which includes more than 40 proposals from 38 different senators, was developed through a series of hearings held by Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and ranking member Patty Murray (D-WA). The HELP Committee’s efforts have run concurrent with that of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Several bills introduced and referred to the Energy and Commerce Committee have been developed with similar intentions as the Senate Bill (SB).

Specifically, the legislation encourages states to disclose prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) data with each other by enhancing the interoperability between the PDMPs and health information technology. This will allow health care providers to identify patients who have a history of substance abuse, which has been widely discussed as it relates to 42 Code of Federal Regulations Part 2, and provide a mechanism to notify health care providers of potential misuse or abuse of controlled substances (CS).

The SB also includes Jessie’s Law. This bill was introduced to make it easier for doctors to know if patients have a history of opioid abuse, similar to the PDMP initiative, by inserting that information into patients’ medical records, including electronic health records, with patient consent. Doctors will then be able to utilize this information to determine the best course of treatment and coordinate treatment across care teams.

Additionally, the bill includes a telemedicine-related proposal. Currently, practitioners are prohibited from prescribing CS remotely under the Ryan Haight Act, except under narrow circumstances. However, the proposal requires that Drug Enforcement Administration draft a regulation, within one year of bill passage, that would permit the issuance of a special registration to allow qualified practitioners to prescribe CS through telemedicine without conducting an in-person patient examination beforehand.

Introduction and markup of legislation aimed at curbing opioid abuse continues to evolve in both the House and Senate. Given the priority that digital health initiatives (like telemedicine) are taking in this legislation, we expect that these tools will be included in any standalone or comprehensive bill passed.