During this open enrollment season, parents should consider privacy implications when adding their adult children to their health insurance plan, said an expert on health insurance at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Under the Affordable Care Act, young adults can stay on their parents’ health insurance until they turn 26,” said Mary Mason, MD, associate director of the university’s Cordell Institute for Policy in Medicine & Law. “While this has provided millions of young adults with necessary health coverage, it also raises significant privacy concerns that can complicate the already challenging transition to adulthood.”

Parents of adult children who are on their health coverage plan may be sent an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) from the insurance company. This document can reveal services provided, the cost covered by insurance and the amount the patient owes. As a result, medical treatments are inadvertently disclosed to the parents, breaching the privacy of the children. 

Privacy concerns also may cause adult children to delay treatment, fearing disclosure of a condition to their parents, Mason said.

“As parents, guardians and policymakers, it’s imperative we safeguard this information,” she said. “Providing adult children up to age 26 health coverage under a family insurance plan is often necessary. However, it’s vital to recognize and address any accompanying privacy concerns.” 

While health insurance entities are bound by stringent privacy regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), parents must be proactive in understanding their rights and ensuring the privacy of their adult children’s medical records, she said.

Mason said parents and guardians should bear in mind: 

 • Adult children insured under their parents’ plan are entitled to privacy regarding their health information. 

 • Adult children can demand confidentiality for their health data and opt for explanation of benefits (EOB) to be mailed to an address distinct from the primary parent policyholder. 

 • Adult children can request the health insurance plan to designate a confidential address for their balance bills or co-pay notices. 

The Cordell Institute aims to devise solutions to the novel ethical and legal questions accompanying scientific and technological advancements in health care, particularly as they relate to privacy and information.