In a move hailed by Planned Parenthood and other healthcare advocates, the Massachusetts House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly last Wednesday in support of An Act to Protect Access to Confidential Healthcare, known as the ‘PATCH Act’. The legislation is touted as a way to guarantee privacy for adults listed as dependents on another’s health insurance plan.
As the law currently stands, the primary policyholder of a health insurance plan is entitled to receive a summary of payments (SOP) form, detailing sensitive medical information for each person on the plan. Advocates and lawmakers contend that this presents an unethical breach of doctor-patient confidentiality. The importance of this confidentiality is especially crucial for those receiving care for sensitive services, like STI testing, HIV treatment, domestic violence counseling, mental health support, or substance abuse treatment.
Following his vote in support of the bill, Rep. Fernandes said that “We have heard stories from people under 26 who contracted a sexually transmitted disease but did not get treated because they feared their parents would find out and we’ve heard stories from women who were abused by their spouse and did not seek care for fear of retribution. This bill ensures confidentiality and breaks down barriers to healthcare access for those who need it most.”
The PATCH Act alters existing methods of communicating medical records by requiring that SOPs list only generic information on the care provided, and ensures that patients are informed of their right to obtain records confidentially via electronic means or an alternate address. Advocacy organizations point out that lack of health care confidentiality discourages patients in need of medical attention for sexual or mental health issues, from seeking care.