Letter to the Editor

Last week, The Gatepost published an article about student privacy at FSU.  As Director of the Health Center, I would like to clear up some possible misconceptions about students’ health information and suggest some actions you can take to provide more protections regarding your health information.

As mentioned in the article, the Health Center follows HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and state laws regarding patient confidentiality.  Unfortunately, parents may find out about medical visits and tests because of billing through insurance companies.  Any time your insurance is used, the insurance company may send home an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) explaining exactly what the insurance paid for.  The same process is used when you use your insurance to be seen at your primary care provider’s office at home or any other clinic.  The Health Center doesn’t charge for visits, submit bills to insurance companies or send bills to your home.  However, if you have a lab test, such as a throat culture for strep throat done in the Health Center, the lab that does the test will bill your insurance company and the insurance company may send an EOB to your parents.

An area where students especially may want privacy is sexual health, including sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing and birth control.  We have attempted to address this situation by letting students know that an EOB may go home, negotiating a less expensive rate with our lab if students choose to pay out of pocket and referring students for testing to an agency called JRI Project Rise in downtown Framingham which does free, confidential STI testing.  This group will be coming to FSU Health Center on Wednesday, April 15 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to do STI testing for any FSU student.  No appointment is needed.

Health Care Providers and others across the state have recognized this potential breach to confidentiality and have formed a group called PATCH (Protecting Access to Confidential Healthcare) Alliance.   This group has filed a bill entitled Ensuring Access to Confidential Health Care (H.D. 595, S.D. 1021) co-sponsored by Senator Karen Spilka (who represents the Framingham/Ashland area) and Representative Kate Hogan.  This bill would change practices regarding EOBs that would protect your privacy and confidentiality.

What can you do?

1. When seeing a health care provider or medical office, ask about how services are billed.

2. Contact your insurance company (call the number on the back of your insurance card) and ask about billing, co-pays and EOBs and what information may go to your home.

3. Support the Ensuring Access to Confidential Health Care bill by contacting Senator Spilka and Representative Hogan to thank them for co-sponsoring the bill and why you think it’s important.  Also, contact your senator and representative to tell them you support the bill and encourage them to vote for the bill.

4. Come to the Health Center with any specific questions or concerns you have about this issue – we’re here to help!

Ilene Hofrenning

Director of the Health Center

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