Testing Can Be Hazardous to Your Health Insurance

The Annoyance:

I’m thinking about getting tested for HIV. But I’m reluctant to go to my regular doctor, because I’m afraid my insurance coverage could be cancelled if the test is positive. Do I need to worry?

The Fix:

You might. The test results will become part of your medical record, which can be shared with a wide range of entities under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (see "Getting Hip to HIPAA“). If you pay for the doctor visit using private health insurance, that information is almost certainly going to end up in medical databases and follow you the rest of your life. The very fact that you had the test, even if it turned out negative, may be a flag to some insurers that you are high risk.

One option is to be tested anonymously at a local free clinic. Such services don’t collect personally identifiable information when they collect your blood sample—so you’ll be able to get the results without creating a traceable record of them. You’ll find a nationwide directory of clinics at the Free Clinic Foundation of America’s site and HIV testing centers at

Anonymous testing is available in 40 states and the District of Columbia. The remaining ten allow only “confidential” testing, where the results can be shared with other health professionals and state health agencies. States that only allow confidential tests include Alabama, the Carolinas, ...

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