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What Good is Having Insurance If You Don’t Feel Safe Using It?

Guest Blog by Aileen Connolly

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, over 435,000 young adults in California now have health care coverage because they can stay on their parents’ health care plan until the age of 26. As a result, confidentiality is now more important than ever. When young adults get health services like STI treatment, birth control, drug treatment, and mental health services, the sensitive health information is shared with the policyholder through an Explanation of Benefits (EOBs) letter. But sometimes, young adults can’t talk about these sensitive health services with their parents. And even if they are close with their parents, shouldn’t this information be shared when young adults are ready, instead of an insurance company disclosing their personal health care choices?

Not being able to guarantee confidentiality can lead to harm. Last semester, I went to my OB/GYN for a pregnancy test. Luckily it was negative. However, I still wasn’t totally in the clear: I had no idea that insurance companies reveal to policyholders what services their dependants have during doctor appointments. I was hoping that my parents would never know or that I could tell them when I was ready.  But my parent’s insurance provider told them before I had a chance to, through an “Explanation of Benefits” letter. When the letter came, my mom was shocked, thinking it was some sort of mix-up with our insurance provider. She called me asking me what day my OB/GYN appointment was and if I had taken a pregnancy test.  In my mind, I was thinking, “how did she find out, did my doctor break confidentiality?”

When the insurance company told my mom about my pregnancy test, it hurt my relationship with my parents.  Luckily, a bill in California can expand confidentiality protections so this incident won’t happen to other young adults. Introduced by Senator Hernandez, SB 138- the Confidential Health Information Act will: 

  • Enhance patient confidentiality to make sure that people with private health insurance under a parent or partner’s policy feel safe enough to use it.
  • Close loopholes and clarify definitions in existing state and federal laws to allow individuals to submit a request to insurance plans to send communications directly to them and not the plan holder when they seek sensitive services.
  • Allow individuals seeking any service to request non-disclosure to the plan holder if they feel doing so could endanger them. This is especially important in cases of domestic violence.

Bills like this one will allow young adults to have access to mental health services, birth control, and substance treatments without fear that a parent will find out about it, saving out-of-pocket and state costs along the way. Right now SB 138 is waiting to be heard in the Assembly Appropriations Committee and will hopefully make its way to the Assembly floor in September. I hope you’ll join me in fighting for the Confidential Health Information Act. Take Action:

Aileen Connolly recently finished her Public Policy Internship at California Family Health Council.