LEGISLATION TO PROTECT PATIENT CONFIDENTIALITY
A STEP CLOSER TO BECOMING LAW
The Massachusetts House of Representatives votes in support of
An Act to Protect Access to Confidential Healthcare (S. 2296)
(Boston, MA) – Today the House of Representatives just passed with a decisive vote (139-14) legislation that advances patient confidentiality. An Act to Protect Access to Confidential Healthcare (PATCH Act) (S. 2296) will prevent the disclosure of sensitive health care information through a Summary of Payments (SOP) form. Currently, those communications are typically sent to the health insurance policy-holder and include information about any service provided by a medical office to a dependent on the plan.
“Health Care For All is very grateful for the support of the House of Representatives for this important legislation,” Amy Rosenthal, Executive Director of Health Care For All. She added: “We all deserve privacy when it comes to our medical care. The Act to Protect Access to Confidential Health Care closes a loophole that can prevent people from seeking critical services. Knowing that the information about a medical visit can be shared is a deterrent for young adults who need access to reproductive health services, people who need mental health or substance use disorder treatment or even survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault.”
HCFA organized a broad coalition in support of the bill, including women’s health groups, health care providers, sexual and domestic violence organizations, mental health organizations, LGBTQ advocacy organizations, and consumer advocates.
Health insurers typically send SOP notices detailing the type and cost of medical services to the primary subscriber each time any enrollee on the plan accesses care. Confidential health information may be inadvertently disclosed on an SOP form, violating the basic right to privacy for anyone enrolled as a dependent on another’s policy, such as a young adult or spouse. When patients are concerned about confidentiality they are more likely to delay or forgo receiving necessary health services.
“The PATCH Act provides everyone who is a patient the privacy they need to feel comfortable seeking health care,” said Representative Kate Hogan, Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health. “There are situations where a patient fears disclosure of certain sensitive services to a family member – such as care related to sexual and reproductive health, domestic violence or sexual assault, or mental health or substance use disorders – and that fear may deter them from seeking care altogether, leading to missed opportunities for prevention and treatment as well as higher health care costs down the road. Establishing and ensuring a new level of confidentiality will alleviate a patient’s fears of being punished or stigmatized for the health care decisions they make and, most importantly, will empower patients to take control of their care and hopefully lead to better health outcomes for our Commonwealth.”
This legislation includes a number of mechanisms to ensure confidentiality. These protections include sending SOP notices directly to the patient rather than to the primary subscriber; allowing patients to choose their preferred method of receiving SOPs; providing only general information about a sensitive service or visit; and providing consumers the option to opt-out of receiving SOPs if no payment is due.
An Act to Protect Access to Confidential Healthcare was also voted favorably by the Senate Two weeks ago with minor changes. The House and Senate will need to finalize the bill text before final passage. HCFA encourages Governor Baker to sign this important piece of legislation so that every patient in the Commonwealth feels safe to use the health care services they need and deserve.
Health Care For All is a non-profit advocacy group that seeks to create a consumer-centered health care system that provides comprehensive, affordable, accessible, culturally competent, high quality care and consumer education for everyone, especially the state's most vulnerable residents.