I’m covered by the company plan, and I’ve been seeing a doctor about planning a knee surgery. I’m afraid that I won’t be considered for a promotion, if they know I’m planning to be out on medical leave. My question is to what extent does my employer have access to my health insurance records? Can they see my doctor’s office visits and what I’m going there for?
On Painful Knees
Dear On Painful Knees,
The answer depends a little bit on how large your company is: larger companies have more access to health insurance data than smaller ones. But, regardless of what data they can see, they cannot use it to decide whether you get a promotion.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prohibits employers from using health data to make firing, promoting or any job-related decisions. So, even a large company that gets detailed reports from the health plan cannot use the information against you. Companies have to have protocols in place to ensure that people making promotion decisions (for example) do not also have access to the health insurance data. In a small company, the detailed reports simply are not available at all. Plans generally do not give these reports to groups with fewer than 50 employees.
Your boss will not know about your upcoming knee surgery. You might want to be open and honest about your plans, once the promotion offer is on the table. If it is a good company and you are the best candidate, you will be able to work something out.