Think your health information is private? Employers can still access it | KUOW News and Information

Think your health information is private? Employers can still access it

Aug 22, 2016

People’s medical records and personal information are protected under federal law, but there’s a loophole in the law that allows employers to access information about employees’ health.

You know those wellness programs that employers use to help improve workers’ health?  They hold a wealth of information about employees: their lifestyles, diet, and medication, including birth control. 

Many people think that information is private. Rep. Suzan Delbene (D-Wash.) said it's not. 

“If a woman makes a personal decision about contraception, her employer should not be the first one to know,” Delbene said. “These are personal decisions between a woman and her family.”

By law, health insurers can’t share information with employers. But that restriction doesn’t apply to third party companies like wellness programs.

Delbene has introduced a bill to close that loophole called the Birth Control Privacy Act. 

Janet Chung is with Legal Voice, an advocacy group for women’s rights. She said the bill is about protecting women’s privacy at work.

“Birth control information doesn’t say anything about an employee’s ability to do the job. And we would love to see employment decisions based on objective criteria that are relevant to the job,” Chung said.

Employers use the information to control health costs. 

This bill would specifically prohibit wellness programs from sharing information about birth control. It has more than 40 legislative co-sponsors and support from organizations including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.