On April 2, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law An Act to Protect Access to Confidential Healthcare (PATCH Act), legislation that will advance patient confidentiality in the state. The PATCH Act ensures that when multiple people are on the same insurance plan, confidential health care information is not shared with anyone other than the patient.
Health plans typically send a Summary of Payments (SOP) form detailing the type and cost of medical services received to the primary policyholder each time an enrollee on the plan accesses care. The SOP form is meant to explain how and when an insurance plan is being used and is not a medical bill. In some instances, the SOP form may contain information on sensitive health care services, such as care related to domestic violence or sexual assault, mental health or substance use disorders, sexual and reproductive health or HIV/AIDS, and can unintentionally compromise patient confidentiality for anyone enrolled as a dependent on another person’s health insurance policy, such as a young adult or spouse.
Fenway Health and AIDS Action Committee were part of the effort to advance this legislation as members of the Protecting Access to Confidential Health Care (PATCH) Alliance, a broad-based group of over 40 provider, advocacy, and community-based organizations. The Alliance organized support for the bill alongside the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.
“[The PATCH Act] will significantly improve patient access to HIV care, including testing and treatment,” said Carl Sciortino, Executive Director of AIDS Action Committee. “Currently, fear of confidentiality breaches can prevent individuals from getting tested for HIV and deter HIV positive individuals from obtaining treatment and even HIV medication. By protecting patient privacy, this law will encourage people to use their private insurance when they seek necessary health care like HIV/STI testing.”
The PATCH Act establishes a number of mechanisms to ensure confidentiality. These protections include sending SOP forms directly to the patient rather than to the primary policyholder, allowing patients to choose their preferred address and method for receiving SOPs, providing only general information about certain sensitive services or visits, and providing patients the option to opt-out of receiving SOPs if no payment is due. Those provisions can be particularly important to those seeking contraceptive care and other reproductive health services.
We applaud the signing of this important legislation that will help ensure that all patients are given the privacy they deserve.
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