Health Law

Calif. Docs Say Blue Cross Illegally Seeks Patient Info

  • Print

Physicians are protesting what they say is a new and unprecedented plan by Blue Cross of California to require doctors to collect and report to health insurers patient information that could eliminate their medical coverage.

“The California Medical Association sent a letter to state regulators Friday urging them to order Blue Cross to stop asking doctors for the patient information, saying it was ‘deeply disturbing, unlawful, and interferes with the physician-patient relationship,’ ” recounts the Los Angeles Times.

Specifically, the doctors are protesting Blue Cross letters they are being sent about new patients, in which the health insurance carrier reportedly provides a copy of the patient’s insurance application and asks the physician to inform Blue Cross immediately if the patient has any pre-existing medical condition that hasn’t been disclosed.

At issue in the dispute is the physician-patient version of attorney-client privilege:

Patients “will stop telling their doctors anything they think might be a problem for their insurance and they don’t think matters for their current health situation,” and this could well harm their health, says Dr. Richard Frankenstein, the CMA’s president. “We’re outraged that they are asking doctors to violate the sacred trust of patients to rat them out for medical information that patients would expect their doctors to handle with the utmost secrecy and confidentiality,” he says of the Blue Cross plan.

But officials at Blue Cross, which is the state’s largest for-profit health insurer, say the plan is part of a policy that has been in place for several years, the newspaper reports. They say Blue Cross needs doctors to provide patient medical information for the purpose of checking their eligibility for medical coverage, in order to prevent insurance fraud.

The letter is “extremely troubling on several fronts,” says Byron Tucker, a spokesman for the state insurance department. “It really obliterates the line between underwriting and medical care.”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.