HIPAA Drug Issues Within the Workplace

Doctors must follow HIPAA regulations.
i Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images

Millions of working women wish to keep their health care information private. They gained a helping hand in 1996, when Congress passed the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. This federal legislation affects the privacy of individuals' health information. However, employers often require pre-employment and post-incident drug testing. This may generate concern among employees who wish for their use of prescription and illicit drugs to remain private. After all, a Mayo Clinic study released in 2013 showed that nearly seven out of 10 Americans take at least one prescription drug, and some prescription drugs will cause you to test positive on a drug screen. Do you need to tell your boss about your antidepressant prescription? Understanding HIPAA's impact on the workplace can provide the answers you need.

HIPAA Basics

    HIPAA provides individuals with certain privacy protection. The federal law sets rules and regulations designed to help patients keep their personal health care information under wraps. HIPAA’s privacy rules protect unauthorized disclosure of health information that identifies an individual. In terms of drug information, HIPAA bans unauthorized disclosure of any information pertaining to a patient’s past or current use of prescription or illegal drugs. This ban includes information about prescriptions, bills and receipts for prescriptions, reports of illnesses or injuries consistent with drug use or abuse and illnesses or conditions likely to require the use of prescription drugs.

HIPAA Applicability

    HIPAA applies to health plan administrators, health care providers, hospitals, clinics, and, yes, also to drug testing labs. The law considers each a covered entity. However, an employer is not considered a covered entity, according to the American Health Lawyers Association, unless the employer and the holder of health care information are one and the same. This might be the case for individuals who work in health care settings, but it does not apply to other employers. Therefore, most employers do not have an obligation to comply with HIPAA regulations.

Drug Testing Disclosure

    According to the Center for Drug Test Information, which provides workplace education and training, drug test results required for employment reasons are considered employee records, rather than medical records, once they reach the employer. Therefore, employers do not have to follow HIPAA regulations. The labs providing the results are obligated to meet HIPAA regulations. They are considered covered entities, and the information is considered health information. They cannot provide the employer with the results of a drug test unless the employee provides written authorization. To overcome this, employers ordinarily make written authorization a condition of employment.

Prescription Verification

    Under HIPAA, doctors and other covered entities may not disclose information about a patient’s current or past use of prescription or illegal drugs. However, some prescription drugs may lead to a positive result on a drug test. If you test positive, your employer may require you to produce proof that you have a prescription for the offending drug. This ordinarily means that you will need to contact the doctor who wrote the prescription and authorize her to provide your employer with proof of your prescription.

the nest