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Health Insurer and Employer Relationship regarding HIV
Jul 22, 2004

I have recently tested positive for HIV but have not seen a doctor yet. The issue is that I do not want my employer (including anyone in HR, etc.) to know about my HIV status. I work for a large co with a group health insurance plan and have good coverage. I'm concerned that if I see a doctor regarding HIV (and eventually get treated for it) my insurer will find out. Since the insurer obviously has a relationship with my company, someone in HR who deals with the insurer may find out. Are there laws protecting me? What if the company did find out and then fired me, are there laws protecting me in that situation? Your advice is greatly appreciated.

Response from Ms. Breuer

To relieve your understandable anxiety, ask the insurer some questions about how your employer receives reports from the insurance company. They should be general usage reports, not connected to any names. And when I say "should," I mean that HIPAA regulations impose hefty fines when disclosure of diagnosis goes to an inappropriate recipient. You don't have to identify yourself on the call. Explain that you're an employee of a company covered by their insurance plan, and ask them what they do to protect employees' privacy.

Take a look at your claim forms. Who receives them? If it's the insurer, not your employer, then you can relax about that aspect of coverage. If it's the HR department of your employer, that's a problem. Contact the head of HR and ask--in general terms--how employees' privacy is maintained under those conditions.

How are your performance reviews? Do you keep copies of them? If you don't have them, ask for them. Your performance record--and a reputation for paying attention to documentation--will be your best protection.

Group policies for large companies are the best, best, best situation for an HIVer. Please see an HIV specialist soon. Your clinical course depends on seeing someone who knows HIV. Make it clear to every medical professional you see that you expect them to maintain your confidentiality. Yes, there are laws protecting you. But your job will be reminding everyone of those laws. Please read some of the other postings at this forum to learn about the Americans with Disabilities Act, reasonable accommodation, functional limitation, disclosure at work, HIPAA--these are terms that will become part of your working vocabulary.

I applaud you for asking questions first rather than watching this unravel and then asking how to knit it together again. Kudos for protecting your privacy. There's no reason for anyone at work to know your diagnosis. Keep 'em focused on what a valuable employee you are!

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