Medical marijuana user sues health insurer for violating HIPAA privacy rules
- A woman is suing her healthcare provider, Spectrum Health Systems Inc., for revealing to her employer, Michigan-based Gentex Corp., that she uses medical marijuana, reports Business Insurance. The lawsuit, Lisa Richlich v. Spectrum Health Systems Inc., charges Spectrum with violating her privacy under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and forcing her subsequent resignation. Medical marijuana use is legal in Michigan.
- Gentex had granted the employee medical family leave for neck surgery with the stipulation that she get medical certification from a physician at Spectrum. The physician noted in the certification that the woman uses marijuana “about five times a week,” as was prescribed by another physician. The employee tried unsuccessfully to have Spectrum remove references to her marijuana use. Meanwhile, Gentax asked that she accept a severance package and resign or face charges under the company’s substance abuse rules.
- Thinking she was better off resigning with a severance package than getting terminated anyway without one, she opted to resign and take the severance pay. Her lawsuit charges Spectrum with negligence, invading her privacy, and intentionally and negligently inflicting her with emotional distress.
The employer had a right to request certification for a medical procedure for medical leave purposes, but the employee’s medical marijuana use was irrelevant to the surgery. Although the transmission of medical information is allowable between insurers and healthcare providers, both covered entities under HIPAA, employers typically aren’t included in the mix unless they’re required to provide reasonable accommodation to a disabled worker under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA.
The medical marijuana use revelation was more than the employer or anyone else outside the healthcare and insurance arena needed to know. The court’s decision bears watching to see if it recognizes any irrelevancies in the case.
The employer's policy is not completely aligned with Michigan law, which has led to similar confusion in other states. Twenty-five states and Washington, D.C., allow medical marijuana use, and more states are expected to follow.