House Sends Patient Privacy, Birth Control Access Bills to Senate

Amid a flurry of legislation last week, the House passed two bills sponsored by Planned Parenthood. One allows patients to shield their explanation of benefits from policyholders, and the other allows women to have a 12-month supply of birth control dispensed at one time.

House Democrats pushed through two health measures late last week that had the support of Planned Parenthood in a coup for reproductive health and patient privacy. Both had spirited, lively debate, but while one fell on party lines, the other attracted just two opponents.

House BIll 2758 gives patients the ability to shield medical information in the explanation of benefits from their primary insurance policyholder, in particular, parents and estranged spouses.

Advocates said the policy was critical in the new insurance landscape laid out by the Affordable Care Act, which allows people to remain on their parents’ insurance policy until they turn 26 unless they can receive adequate insurance elsewhere.

Laura Terrill Patten, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, told The Lund Report the concept of offering patients the chance to keep their explanation of benefits private was established in California after a girl attempted suicide for fear her parents would find out about a pregnancy test.

HB 2758 has also been championed by advocates for domestic violence victims, who might be reluctant to seek care if they knew their alleged abuser could be privy to the details of their medical visits.

Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, spoke from personal experience about a close female friend in college whom he helped pay for mental health counseling out-of-pocket rather than allow a policyholder who had molested her as a child know she was seeking help.  “This isn’t a hypothetical. This does happen,” Clem said. “I can tell you firsthand, I witnessed someone deathly afraid of the bill going home and chose not to use her insurance.”

The legislation gives patients to ability to have their medical information, such as tests and details about their visits, sent to a special address or to a personal electronic mail account, rather than show up in the mail.  

“This bill only applies where the explanation of benefits is sent. It has no impact on consent laws for medical treatment,” said Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, the chief sponsor. “I think we reached a good balance between protecting patient privacy and adopting a policy that would work for our insurers.”

All House Republicans opposed the bill, arguing that allowing minors to shield the information from their parents was an attempt by Democrats to circumvent parental rights. House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Prineville, said domestic violence victims already had this protection under federal law. Republicans offered an amended version that would have granted the patient privacy to adults but only extend the privilege to minors in cases of abuse.

Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Cottage Grove, who sponsored that amendment, said his daughter wanted to play equestrian sports despite an injury until her parents intervened.

Rep. Jim Weidner, R-McMinnville, said that if a teenager wanted to hide the information from their parents, it was likely the result of an abusive environment, an assertion that Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, categorized as “nonsense.”

Rep. Ann Lininger, D-Portland, could imagine a teenager struggling with a mental health challenge, but reluctant to seek counseling if their parents got involved, even though they were well intentioned. “I don’t want to create a situation where people would not seek help.”

The other bill, House Bill 3343, to allow women to get a year’s worth of oral contraceptives, passed 55-2.

HB 3343’s supporters argued it would save the system costs by preventing unplanned pregnancies, and remove the nuisance of constantly seeking refills. “Women find themselves in situations where they don’t want to stop birth control but don’t always have access,” said Rep. Jessica Vega Pederson, D-Portland.

The bill passed more narrowly in the House Health Committee, but at least one Republican switched his vote after his wife found out he had opposed the policy. “I also talked to my wife, and I will support this bill,” said Hayden.

Although the topic of contraception has been a political football at the federal level, Oregon Republicans expressed little desire to oppose expanded access, reflecting the reality that almost all women will use birth control in their lifetimes. Rep. John Davis, R-Wilsonville, also discussed this issue with his wife: “She has to call every month to get this prescription. It’s a real frustration.”

“I’ve got to commend the girls who stepped up and put this together,” said Rep. Jodi Hack, R-Salem. “This is a no-brainer. This is the 21st century.”

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