Your employer now can get lists of big medical bills
L.M. Sixel: Houston Chronicle
As of Jan. 1, businesses became entitled to receive a list of their employees and family members — identified by number or some other code, but not by name — whose health bills exceeded $15,000 the previous year.
Some employers and their representatives applaud the new requirements — which are reinforced with fines of up to $25,000 against insurers that don't comply — as a way to reduce costs by attracting more competitive bids from insurers.
"It appears to give employers the power to find out who is expensive and fire them," said Dr. Deborah Peel, a psychiatrist and the founder and chairwoman of Patient Privacy Rights, an Austin-based consumer group.
Peel also argued that even though the law keeps workers' names off the records, they can be deciphered easily by comparing payroll records with dates of medical care. If insurers use an employee's regular policy number, the match is even easier.
And because it's not difficult to rack up a $15,000 bill these days, employers will gain access to many records, Peel said.
Besides, he said, companies often know when employees are sick because of the time they take off.
However, many insurance carriers, including those acting as third-party administrators for self-insured plans, have been loath to disclose it.
"I'm an employer and I review new medical plans periodically," said Mithoff, who represents individuals in cases in which medical privacy has been an issue. "If there is a legitimate need, it can be satisfied with data in the aggregate. But not individual data — what would be the purpose in that?
"I just see a lot of room for abuse."
"If I were an employer, I wouldn't want that list," she said.Keyword: