Massachusetts Enacts Law Providing Greater Privacy of Health Insurance Information
Health insurance carriers often provide explanation of benefits (EOB) summaries to the policyholder specifying the type and cost of health care services received by dependents covered by the policy. EOBs often disclose sensitive information regarding the mental or physical health condition of adult dependents. Massachusetts has now enacted a law, an act to protect access to confidential health care (the PATCH Act), that permits patients to require their insurance carriers to send their medical information only to them as opposed to the policyholder. This will permit a spouse or adult child of the policyholder to keep medical information from being shared with the policyholder. The law also requires insurance carriers to use a common summary of payments form to be developed by the Massachusetts Division of Insurance. The law takes effect April 1, 2019; however, any carrier that has the capacity to provide electronic access to common summary of payments forms prior to that date must do so.
This new Massachusetts law affords individuals greater privacy protections than HIPAA with respect to heath information communicated by insurance carriers. For example, HIPAA provides for a right to request restriction (45 CFR § 164.522). Under this HIPAA provision, an individual has the right to request restrictions on how his or her protected health information for treatment, payment, or health care operations is used or disclosed. However, under HIPAA health care insurance carriers do not have to agree with the individual’s request. Conversely, the new Massachusetts law provides that carriers “shall not specify or describe sensitive health care services in a common summary of payments form.” The Division of Insurance will define “sensitive health care services.” In determining that definition, the law requires the Division of Insurance to “consider the recommendations of the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics and similar regulations in other states and shall consult with experts in fields including, but not be limited to, infectious disease, reproductive and sexual health, domestic violence and sexual assault and mental health and substance use disorders.” In addition, if an insured member who is legally authorized to consent to his or her care or the care of others has no liability for payment for a procedure or service, that member may request that the carrier not issue a common summary of payments form for a specific service or procedure. The carrier may request written verification of an oral request, but may not require an explanation of the basis for the request unless otherwise required by law or a court order.
Insurance carriers will be required to communicate the members’ rights to request that medical information be sent to them rather than the policyholder and to suppress the common summary of payments form in plain language and in a clear and conspicuous manner in evidence of coverage documents, member privacy communications and on every common summary of payments form. This information also must be conspicuously displayed on the carrier’s member website and online portals for individual members.
The law also requires the Division of Insurance to issue guidance as necessary to implement and enforce the law by July 1, 2019 and to develop and implement a plan to educate providers and consumers regarding the rights of insured members and the responsibilities of carriers to promote compliance with the law by October 1, 2019. Nothing in the new law supersedes any general or special law related to informed consent of minors.
Insurance carriers should consider an immediate review of their systems to determine the best way to implement the requirements of this new Massachusetts law.