Senate Passes Bill to Protect Access to Confidential Health Care
Today the Massachusetts State Senate passed legislation to protect patients’ access to confidential health care. In an effort to maintain the confidentiality of patients covered as dependents on another person’s insurance policy, the “PATCH Act” requires insurance carriers to issue common summary of payment forms directly to the patient.
“Patient confidentiality is a foundational element of the patient-provider relationship,” said Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland), lead sponsor of the bill. “Unfortunately, young adults, minors or victims of abuse are often reluctant to seek certain types of treatment, fearing that their personal health information will be disclosed to a parent or spouse. This bill is a crucial step to ensure all Massachusetts residents can safely access the health care services they need.”
“The PATCH Act ensures that every Massachusetts resident retains their fundamental right to privacy when making health care decisions,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester). “A patient is entitled to confidentiality whether or not they are the primary subscriber. I am very pleased that the Senate has passed this legislation.”
Some health insurers’ current billing and claims communication practices can unintentionally violate the basic right to privacy of a patient covered as a dependent on another person’s policy, for example a young adult, minor or spouse. Insurers routinely send summary of payment or Explanation of Benefits (EOB) forms, detailing the type and cost of medical services received, to the primary subscriber on an insurance plan. In many situations, young adults, minors or women may choose to forego certain types of treatment due to fears that a parent or spouse will see sensitive health information on an EOB form.
“Today the Senate has passed a common sense solution to a problem that impacts access to health care for many Massachusetts consumers,” said Amy Rosenthal, Executive Director, Health Care For All. “Currently, Explanation of Benefits notices are sent to the primary policy-holder detailing health services received by a dependent. It is time to better protect privacy so that this doesn’t deter, for example, young adults from seeking sensitive services or worsen the situation for victims of domestic violence. We now urge the House of Representatives to advance An Act to Protect Access to Confidential Healthcare to effectively protect health information from being shared with anyone other than the patient.”
The bill requires the Division of Insurance to develop a common summary of payments form to be used by all insurance carriers in the Commonwealth. Insurers would be required to issue these forms at the member level and allow each insured member to choose their preferred method of receiving the forms.
“We applaud Senate President Chandler, Senator Spilka, and members of the Senate for passing Senate Bill 2296, the PATCH Act, this afternoon. We are pleased to have worked with legislative leaders, Attorney General Maura Healy, the PATCH Alliance, and the Baker Administration on this important piece of legislation,” said Lora Pellegrini, President and CEO of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans. “The PATCH Act will give health plan members confidence in knowing that they can receive the medical treatment they need, while ensuring that their medical information remains private and will be delivered in a way that best meets their particular needs. The bill requires that Explanation of Benefit forms, commonly referred to as EOBs, be issued at the member rather than subscriber level, allows members to request that EOBs be delivered by mail or electronically, and in some instances, be diverted or suppressed where appropriate. We look forward to working with the House to ensure quick passage of this legislation and look forward to Governor Baker signing the PATCH Act into law.”
The bill requires the Division of Insurance to define sensitive health care services that cannot be identified on the common summary of payments form. Instead, the EOB would provide generic information only, such as “office visit” or “medical care.” Patients who are legally authorized to consent to care would be allowed to request suppression of summary of payment forms for a specific service or procedure if no payment is due.
The bill also requires the Division of Insurance, in consultation with the Department of Public Health, to develop and implement a plan to educate providers and consumers regarding the rights of insured members and responsibilities of carriers to promote compliance.
“Access to health care has been a focal point of the Senate this session and barriers to access can come in many forms,” said Senator James T. Welch (D- West Springfield), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. “Lacking full privacy when making medical decisions, especially concerning health issues that can unfortunately come with stigmas, can be just as strong a barrier to health care as the availability of providers or the cost of treatment. The PATCH Act will remove that barrier of partial privacy by ensuring that individuals can make treatment decisions based solely on the advice of medical professionals.”
“We all deserve the right to seek medical attention without risking personal harm or stigma, and I’m proud that the Senate passed the PATCH Act today, which will guarantee privacy for all patients including those seeking services for sexual and reproductive health, domestic violence or sexual assault, and mental health and substance use,” said Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton). “As the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Financial Services, it was a priority for me to vote this healthcare access bill out of committee. I want to thank Senate Ways and Means Chair Karen Spilka for her leadership in filing this important bill, and Senate President Harriette Chandler for ensuring that the Senate continues to take meaningful progress towards improving access to comprehensive healthcare for all Massachusetts residents.”
The bill will now be sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.