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Response to Question Re Employer's Knowledge of HIV Status thru Insurance Carrier
Jan 28, 2012

Hello, Ms. Franzoi. This is both my experience and a question. 18 yrs ago I was working in a law firm in Century City (Los Angeles) and the procedure for filing claims with our insurance carrier was to fill out the form and hand it in to the office "supervisor" (a long-time employee, 3rd member of the "trinity" which ran the firm) who would then finish up the necessary procedures for verifying and filing the claim, then weeks later hand us our insurance refund in the form of a check. Due to that procedure, knowing AZT would show up on my insurance form and unquestionably "out" my status to the principals of the firm, I asked to meet with the heads of the firm, the attorney for whom most of my research was done, and the office supervisor. The meeting went well, I felt reassured. About a week later the office MANAGER, a woman, a figurehead employee with no real power, invited me to lunch where she told me, confidentially, that she'd been asked to "paper me out of the firm." I felt concern, but could not have foreseen the depths to which these people would sink in order to be rid of someone who had formerly been their "star" employee. Changes were made in the rules governing our lunch hours, overtime obligations, ability to leave our "station" without prior authorization, enter certain rooms, replenish our supplies, refresh our coffee, take bathroom breaks, almost everything that had formerly been conducted on an adult, "voluntary," basis was curtailed and cut back. Since the rules applied to everyone, resentment toward me grew because word got around that the new draconian, Orwellian work environment was a reaction to something the "Gay guy" had done. During that period I broke my arm at a weekend AIDS workshop on "expressing anger" and had to take a leave. While recuperating I received a certified letter telling me my services for the firm were no longer required and wishing me well in my future endeavors. Tom Hanks' movie "Philadelphia" was then current, so my friends urged me to sue; however, I got it into my head that the worst possible outcome would be for the judge to restore me to that job, which I'd grown to loathe. I later learned from friends at work that the principals had expected me to take legal action and had already set aside money for a "magnanimous" settlement offer. In the end, however, justice was, perhaps a bit served. Not only was I able to extend my COBRA benefits to OBRA benefits, after which their insurance premiums soared despite my dismissal, but another employee, a woman, found out her boyfriend was bisexual, had infected her, and they dared not attempt the same scenario twice in a row. Sorry for being so verbose. My question is, does it sound like they were breaking the law or has it changed since that time (1993)? Are new privacy protections in place so that employees do not have to turn their detailed medical forms into another employee of their workplace? (Although it would have been "known" at once that the Gay guy was the source of the AIDS-panicked Insurer reaction.) It was even suggested to me that they should not have been able to dismiss me from my job while I had a cast on my arm. And just FYI, the two firms I'd worked for in the 11 yrs prior to this had had the same policy regarding handing in one's medical reports to the office manager for processing. Although an answer cannot be of assistance to me now that I've been on SSDI for 18 yrs, it might be of aid to another in my situation, or perhaps just satisfy my curiosity after all these years. Thank you.

Response from Mr. Chambers

I'm sorry you had such a horrible experience, but it is good to hear you have survived it and seem to be doing well.

Yes, laws have changed that provide more protection.

Insurance companies have generally changed their procedures so that claims are sent directly from the doctor with payments going directly back to him or her. Even the information you get about a payment (which a very few employers also request) does not show anything about the diagnosis you are treated for or even what was done.

Thanks for reminding us to emphasize this.

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