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Confidentiality Bill Passes Senate

Confidentiality Bill Passes Senate

March 10, 2016

"Confidential"Health Care For All applauds the decisive vote to pass An Act to Protect Access to Confidential Healthcare (S. 2138) by the Massachusetts Senate today. This legislation will prevent the disclosure of sensitive health care information through an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) form received by someone other than the patient.

The HCFA-led "Protecting Access to Confidential Health Care" (PATCH) Alliance, a broad-based group of provider, advocacy, and community-based organizations, led the advocacy for the bill. Also supporting the bill were the state's health insurers, including the plans of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

Health insurers routinely send EOB notices detailing the type and cost of medical services received to the primary subscriber each time an enrollee on the plan accesses care. Confidential health information may be disclosed in an EOB, violating the basic right to privacy for anyone enrolled as a dependent on another's policy, such as a young adult, minor or spouse.

State Senator Karen Spilka spoke passionately in support of the bill during the brief Senate debate:

This is called the PATCH Act because it stands for protecting access to confidential health care. The genesis was working with Dr. Paula Johnson at Brigham and Women's and one thing that came to light is that there are women who would come to the clinic, or not, afraid their confidential health care information would not be kept confidential. Down the line, their explanation of benefits was not being sent directly to them, but to the subscriber, which could be a spouse. In cases of domestic violence it precluded a woman from seeking health care the woman really needed. In an attempt to remedy that and the issue with the ACA, children up to 26 can stay on their parents health care, they want their information coming to them, not their parents. This is basically what is involved in this bill. I ask that you vote yes.

Senators Welch and Eldridge also were instrumental in advancing the legislation.

An Act to Protect Access to Confidential Healthcare establishes mechanisms to ensure that, when multiple people are on the same insurance plan, confidential health care information is not shared with anyone other than the patient. These protections include sending notices directly to the dependent rather than to the primary policyholder; allowing patients to choose their preferred method of receiving EOBs; providing only general information about the service or visit; and providing consumers the option to opt-out of receiving EOBs if no remaining balance exists on the claim. More information about the bill is here.

But we’re not done yet. We encourage people to thank their State Senators, as well as to reach out to their Representatives in the House. We now urge the House of Representatives to advance this legislation so it can become law to effectively protect consumers throughout the Commonwealth when they seek care.