Newsom signs bill protecting LGBTQ patients' health care privacy

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday September 22, 2021
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Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill September 22 that protects the health care privacy of LGBTQ patients and others. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill September 22 that protects the health care privacy of LGBTQ patients and others. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland

During a bill signing ceremony Wednesday focused on legislation strengthening reproductive health care services in California, Governor Gavin Newsom also signed into law legislation that protects the health care privacy of LGBTQ patients and others.

Assembly Bill 1184 ensures the privacy rights of people receiving sensitive health care services, such as gender-affirming care, are not violated by their health care providers. It is one of two bills addressing transgender issues authored this year by Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco).

Sponsored by Planned Parenthood, AB 1184 prohibits health care providers from disclosing services a patient receives under an insurance policy held by another person, such as a parent or spouse. Thus, a youth receiving transgender health care under their parent's policy can request their health provider not inform them their child is receiving such care. The same request can be made by a person seeking out abortion services who doesn't want the holder of their health care policy to know they are.

The legislation establishes automatic confidentiality by putting that burden on health insurance companies rather than patients, as Chiu explained in a June guest opinion piece for the Bay Area Reporter. In addition to gender-affirming care, behavioral health care and substance use care are also covered by the legislation, noted Chiu.

During the virtual bill signing ceremony Chiu warned that without his bill becoming law, trans youth could face being put into a "dangerous position" if their parents or guardians object to their transitioning.

"Patients should not forgo the health care they need because they are worried about their privacy being violated. With the signing of this bill, California is protecting and expanding access to crucial health care services for our most vulnerable," Chiu told the B.A.R. in a statement.

The other bill, AB 1356 by Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda), bans the harassment and doxing that abortion protestors will do at clinics, such as filming patients and providers, following them, posting their personal information on extremist websites, and threatening their safety.

Newsom said he was "proud" to sign the pair of bills addressing such "profoundly important" issues.

"This is a hard topic, subject for everybody," said Newsom, adding that he was pleased to see people's "dignity is centered in this conversation. It is a big part of what these bills do."

Newsom, who routinely signs legislation into law without comment, held the virtual signing ceremony for the two bills in the wake of Texas' anti-abortion law going into effect, according to a media advisory from his office. It noted his doing so comes as a coalition of reproductive rights and justice organizations in California launched the California Future of Abortion Council on Wednesday. The council will work with policy makers, providers and other stakeholders on recommendations to further build on the Golden State's leadership and expand access to reproductive health care for Californians and those from out of state seeking services here.

"I am proud of California's leadership in protecting access to sexual and reproductive rights, but as we've seen recently, we can, and we must do more. I applaud the establishment of the FAB Council and look forward to participating alongside other members and advocates to ensure California is expanding access to sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion in the wake of the dangerous, harmful, and unconstitutional restriction put in place in Texas," said Newsom. "My administration will continue to work to find ways that California can continue to be a beacon for those seeking essential services, particularly those who face greater barriers in our state or are coming from out-of-state to California to seek essential care they cannot receive in their own state."

Lesbian state Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego), who worked as a director of clinical services at a woman's health care clinic in the 1980s, noted she "saw firsthand what access — and lack thereof — meant for women. At our San Diego clinic, we helped women from Mexico and other states with restricted access, and I saw firsthand the devastating emotional and financial impact that had on them. I met mothers who lost daughters due to illegal abortions. Held the hands of women as they considered their options."

The recent determination by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 6-4 ruling to allow Texas's restricting abortion at six weeks to stand while its considers legal challenges to it, said Atkins, "isn't just a singular legal decision - it's a ruling that has a daily impact, a very real, very personal, impact for women across this country. And as we look carefully at all that it will mean for California, I remain committed to protecting reproductive rights and a woman's right to make decisions about her own body and access the health care services she needs."

Other trans-related bill awaits signature

Still awaiting Newsom's John Hancock is Chiu's AB 245 that will prohibit public universities from deadnaming trans and nonbinary students — that is using their former names they were given based on the sex they were assigned at birth — on their diplomas and academic records is also waiting for Newsom's signature. It is one of several LGBTQ-related bills lawmakers sent to the governor's desk this legislative session.

As of September 22, Newsom has signed into law eight LGBTQ-related bills this year. Last week he signed AB 1094, authored by Assemblyman Dr. Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno), making California the first state in the country to collect violent death data within its LGBTQ community.

Two bills aimed at assisting people living with HIV became law in July. Senate Bill 283, authored by Senator Lena A. Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), strengthens the Equal Insurance HIV Act of 2020. It imposes a prohibition as of January 1, 2023 on a life or disability insurance insurer from considering an applicant's occupation in determining whether to require an HIV test.

The other HIV-related bill, SB 258, specifies that older people with HIV are to be part of the population of "greatest social need" when it comes to programs and services administered by the California Department of Aging. Gay state Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), a founder and former executive director of an AIDS agency in his coastal city, authored the legislation.

The governor in July also signed into law Laird's SB 272 updating "archaic gender-specific pronouns" used in the state's vehicle code to refer to the California Highway Patrol commissioner, now led by a woman, as well as throughout the state's insurance code. It parallels another bill Newsom signed into law that month authored by Bauer-Kahan, who signed on as a co-author to Laird's legislation.

Bauer-Kahan's AB 378 systematically goes through laws related to the offices of the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state controller, treasurer, insurance commissioner, and board of equalization to make all references to the gender of the officer gender neutral. Currently, most parts of the state code refer to these constitutional office holders as only "he" or "him."

Newsom also signed Bauer-Kahan's AB 439 to allow for deceased Californians who are nonbinary to be identified as such on their death certificates.

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