Let’s talk about HIPAA – The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. This law is often misconstrued and misunderstood and has recently been pushed to the forefront of conversations again due to misunderstandings about what it does and does not require.
The main purpose of HIPAA when it was first passed was to give patients the right to access their medical records and to have those records easily transfer to other medical providers. Readers of a certain age will remember a Seinfeld episode where the gang was trying to find out what the doctors were writing down, but the doctors refused to divulge what was in their records. That changed after HIPAA, you now have the right to see your records and to dispute information that you believe is incorrect.
Another aspect of HIPAA is the part that causes confusion – the privacy requirements. However the act is actually very limited in what it restricts. First, it generally only applies to a certain set of “covered entities” – Health Plans, Health Care Providers and Health Care Clearinghouses. In addition, business associates of covered entities are also subject to HIPAA regulations. That is it. For the most part, HIPAA does not apply to employers, schools, law enforcement or other private businesses.
What is required under the act? Again, generally speaking, covered entities and their business associates must put safeguards in place to ensure that your health information is protected and is only used for proper purposes. They must also create procedures to limit who can view or have access your health information. For the most part, medical providers can share your health information with others, even without your explicit consent, if they feel it is in your best interest – unless you explicitly tell them not to do so.
HIPAA does not bar a private business or individual from asking you whether you have a health condition that requires a special accommodation. In fact, it makes sense for the business, or your employer, to know as much about your health condition as possible – so that they can craft a reasonable accommodation for you if possible. HIPAA also does not restrict your ability to tell people about your own health conditions – if you choose to do so.
So, then why does HIPAA matter to you? Mainly because a lot of medical providers err on the side of caution when sharing your medical information, because they do not want to be subject to the penalties. This could mean that a health care provider may choose not to tell you about the medical condition of a relative or adult child, if they don’t have explicit consent on file. Most of the time, if your relative is unconscious, the medical provider will give information to close relatives in order to give proper care. But they aren’t required to. That is why it is important to understand that Estate Planning is more than just a will – it includes having a valid Power of Attorney and/or Living Will to ensure that your loved ones can get information if you are incapacitated. In addition, most people don’t consider that their college aged or young adult children are considered “adults” and thus may they may not be able to get information about accidents or procedures that their children are going under.
What should you do? When considering your Estate Planning, you should ensure that you obviously have your will to determine what happens to your estate when you die. But, you should also ensure that you have named a power of attorney to handle your financial affairs if you are incapacitated and a medical power of attorney so that your family can get information and make decisions in line with your wishes and beliefs. Finally, if you have children who are leaving for college or even living on their own, you should ensure that they have a valid power of attorney so that you can get information and be present should something happen to them.
If you would like to discuss this or any aspect of estate planning in more detail, please reach out to Audi Law and we will walk you through the process and answer any questions you may have.