The General Assembly passed a bill at the end of this session that will make it easier for those receiving medical treatment to have their insurer send the “Explanation of Benefits” form to an alternate address instead of to the policy holder.
Senate Bill 790 was aimed at protecting the privacy of abused spouses and young adults still covered under their parents’ insurance. What’s less evident, said Ferrier R. Stillman of Tydings & Rosenberg LLP in Baltimore, is that it could also affect Maryland residents going through a divorce.
“It’s healthcare law,” Stillman says. “There is usually no reason family law attorneys would even look for this bill, but it’s important to get the word out because we don’t usually focus on healthcare law.”
Stillman talked to Maryland Family Law Update about the family-law implications of SB 790.
First, could you describe what the new law does?
Currently, under HIPAA, people who fear the consequences of their “Explanation of Benefits” going to the policy holder can ask that the explanation of benefits be diverted to another address. The new law requires the Maryland Insurance Administration to provide a form to make that much easier to accomplish.
The typical situation where this would occur is when a person is on their spouse’s or parent’s health insurance and does not want that spouse or parent to know what treatment they are receiving.
How will it change patient privacy in Maryland?
It’s going to make it possible for victims of domestic violence to shield the information about their health care treatment from a spouse or parent that may be the abuser. It’ also a possible gateway to protections for family members who are not necessarily victims of domestic violence, but might have other reasons to want to protect the privacy of the healthcare treatment they are receiving.
How will it affect people going through a divorce?
A person going through a divorce might not want their spouse to know, for instance, that they are in counseling; this would allow that information to be shielded from the policyholder. A person going through a divorce who is a victim of domestic violence would be able to shield their physical or mental health care from an abuser who is the policyholder on the insurance.
Also, you could have someone contemplating divorce who wouldn’t want their spouse to know they are in therapy. This is a way to shield that from the other spouse, particularly before litigation. Sometimes people are going to therapy to consider whether they want to go forward in the divorce. This provides protection from their spouse knowing they are seeking therapy, which might be a clue there is a problem in the marriage.
It’s even more important now when adult children can stay on their parent’s health insurance until they are 26. Often one of the terms of a separation agreement would be which parent will cover the child and for how long. Let’s say we have one adult child siding with one parent in a divorce case, and that child is in therapy and did not want the other parent to know, but is still on the other parent’s health insurance. This allows that information to be protected.
What should family lawyers tell their clients about the law?
They should tell their clients that they can fill out this form [from] the Maryland Insurance Administration to shield the fact that they are receiving any kind of health care, if it would further endanger them.
The form has not been drafted yet since the law was just enacted, but since it was enacted as emergency legislation that went into effect as soon as the governor signed it, I would expect it to be up on the Maryland Insurance Administration website by end of summer, if not earlier.