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On Privacy and Reproductive Health: California’s Confidential Health Information Act

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April 1, 2013

Elizabeth McElvein is a member of the Choice USA chapter at Scripps College

The federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires health plans and insurers to offer coverage to dependent children up to age 26. While the expansion of health care coverage is a momentous step forward, the ACA leaves matters of patient privacy relatively ambiguous; consequently, it is up to state lawmakers to mediate the conflict between maintaining appropriate health plan and insurer communication and protecting patient confidentiality.

This tension is of concrete significance to women and young people for whom patient confidentiality translates into freedom to pursue sexual and reproductive health care services.

Imagine a high school senior sitting by herself in a doctor’s waiting room. She contemplates telling her doctor that she is sexually active and dreads the eminent query: do you need birth control? “Yes” is such a simple word with such overwhelming consequences. What will happen if her parents find out she is on birth control and learn she is sexually active? Will they punish her, shame her or forbid her from seeing her boyfriend? Afraid and alone, the immediate fear of family’s reaction eclipses consideration of the social, political and economic consequences of pregnancy. She does not share her sexual history with her doctor and does not seek reproductive health services.

The Confidential Health Information Act (SB 138) will ensure that fear does not prohibit a patient from perusing her reproductive health care needs. The legislation proposes to reduce a patient’s burden to opt-in to confidentiality conditions and to strengthen existing privacy measures. The automatic non-disclosure of confidential information provision will enshrine privacy, protection and human agency as legal status quo. Indeed, a patient’s ability to pursue appropriate medical services is inscribed within a context of unequivocal privacy and protection.

On April 3, the California Senate Health Committee will review SB138, so now is the perfect time to take action to ensure access to sexual and reproductive health! Write a letter urging a Senate Health Committee member to vote yes on SB138. Need a little inspiration? Check out the California Family Health Council’s sample letter here.

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