Keeping Medical Information Private in Health Care Reform
With the implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), millions more Americans will be covered by private insurance. Many of these will be young people under 26 who will now be covered under a parent’s plan. Great news, right? But with that comes new challenges related to maintaining patient confidentiality, particularly when seeking sensitive services.
Personal, sensitive health services—like testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, contraceptives, mental health care, and drug and alcohol treatment—may not remain confidential under current law. This is because information is often shared with policyholders through explanation of benefit letters or other communication.
In other cases, spouses or former spouses of the policy holder may need to keep medical information private. For example, survivors of domestic abuse might choose to not seek medical or mental health services for fear of their abuser finding out about their location or the medical care they seek.
Young adults under 26 who are covered under a parent’s plan, might not seek care for fear of their parent finding out. Or, they might enroll in public programs, like Family PACT (California’s family planning program) for contraceptives, resulting in double coverage and a cost to the state—when someone is already paying a premium to a private insurance company for that care.
SB 138, authored by state Senator Ed Hernandez, will better protect confidentiality and personal and sensitive health information by requiring stronger confidentiality protections in all private health insurance products and lessening the burden on the insured dependent to opt-in to confidentiality protections.
Under this bill, when young adults under the age of 26 receive sensitive services like STI testing and treatment or birth control, there will be automatic non-disclosure of the information to the policyholder.
Insured dependents over age 26 can request non-disclosure of information when they seek and receive sensitive services or any health care service when they feel disclosure could cause them harm, which is especially important for those who have experienced domestic violence.
Californians should be able to seek the care they need without fear that their private, sensitive medical information be disclosed. The California Senate passed SB 138 yesterday, and the bill moves on to the Assembly.
Ashley Morris is a Senior Organizer with the ACLU of Northern California.
UPDATE: On October 1, 2013, Gov. Brown signed SB 138 into law.