January 7, 2015 (San Diego's East County) -- As the second wave of open enrollment into Covered California is in full swing, individuals covered under their parent or spouse's health plan can start feeling safe enough to actually use their insurance. SB 138 - the Confidential Health Information Act - took effect on January 1st to close loopholes in existing state and federal laws that result in breaches in patient confidentiality through Explanation of Benefits letters and other standard communications from health insurance plans.
Introduced by Senator Ed Hernandez of Los Angeles in 2013, SB 138 requires health plans to honor confidential communications requests (CCR) submitted by individuals covered under another person’s policy when they seek sensitive services like birth control, STD tests, mental health care or any service if they feel that disclosure of information could lead to harm or harassment.
When a CCR is submitted, plans must now send information about a health care visit directly to the patient and not the main policy holder. This is particularly important as more Californians obtain health insurance coverage. To date, nearly 4 million Californians are newly insured through the Medi-Cal expansion or Covered California. The Affordable Care Act has also helped over 435,000 young adults in California alone gain coverage by allowing them to stay on their parent's health insurance plans since 2010.
Co-sponsors of the bill have launched a new website - myhealthmyinfo.org – to increase awareness about new privacy protections in place under the new law, particularly among young adults. The website also hosts free provider training and patient education materials to help Californians with health insurance under another person’s plan keep their health information confidential. A paid social media campaign is also scheduled to run during the first half of 2015.
“With expanded health care coverage, everyone covered under someone else’s private health insurance plan should feel safe enough to use their insurance - especially for personal and timely services like birth control, a pregnancy or STD test or domestic violence screening,” said Amy Moy, California Family Health Council's Vice President of Public Affairs. “Now we just have to get the word out to make sure that Californians learn about and understand their new privacy rights," added Moy.
“We are proud of California's commitment to protecting patient confidentiality,” said Ruth Dawson, an attorney at the ACLU of California. “SB 138 will ensure that Californians can seek medical care without fear that their private, sensitive information could be disclosed.”
“SB 138 is a model that can be used across the country to protect patient confidentiality and allow health plans and insurers to send required communications to their enrollees. It's a win for all parties involved and if we can make it work here, other states are likely to follow suit,” added Rebecca Gudeman, senior attorney at the National Center for Youth Law.
Visit myhealthmyinfo.org to learn more about SB 138, the Confidential Health Information Act.