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How Private Is Your Medical Info?

10 things you should know about what can — and can't — be shared

6. If I lose my insurance and apply on the open market, can my new insurance company contact my old insurance company to review my claims history to determine my coverage or rates?

A. Absolutely not. One insurance company sharing your claims history with another would be considered unauthorized disclosure to a third party, which is a HIPAA violation. Insurers may access individual doctors' files for underwriting purposes, but only once you disclose your physicians' names in your application for coverage.

7. Can my health information be used for marketing purposes?

A. Not unless you give permission or take part in free health screenings.

Individual and group health plans, health care clearinghouses and health care providers may not disclose health information for marketing or provide data to a third party for marketing in exchange for direct or indirect payment unless there is authorization from the patient. There's one big loophole: If you take part in free or low-cost health screenings that are conducted at health fairs, shopping malls and pharmacies, your information may be provided to marketers.

8. Can my health information be used for research?

A. Yes, but your name can't be released. Private researchers and government agencies compiling health data outcomes commonly have access to patient medical records under conditions of confidentiality. Your name may be seen on some of the records, but the researchers are prohibited from making that public.

9. Is my prescription drug information protected?

A. Pharmacies can turn over anonymous prescription data to companies that collect and sell this information to pharmaceutical companies. Drug company representatives, knowing your doctor's name — but not yours — can call the doctor and suggest other medications to prescribe for a specific condition just like yours.

10. Can debt collection agencies access information about unpaid medical bills?

A. Yes, but not detailed information about specific treatments. Overdue debts to doctors and hospitals can be reported to collection agencies and show up on your credit report. Information provided includes your name and address, your date of birth, Social Security number, your payment history and the name of the health provider owed money.

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