HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. The law deals with a variety of issues but we are most concerned about the privacy rules that are a part of the Statute.
In general terms they provide that a patient must give written approval prior to their “protected” health care information is shared by a health care provider, such as a physician or a hospital. This is obviously a good thing, and most of us have had experience with this.
The issues arise when the patient is not able to give the required consents due to a disability. When this situation arises, the problems start. If the patient has signed an instrument authorizing another to exercise the patient’s rights under HIPAA, then the problem is solved. If not . . . , well let’s just say there are many horror stories that have resulted. Suffice it to say that it is quite difficult, if not impossible, for families to get the needed information to make decisions, or to even consult with physicians. I have two incidents that have occurred in my own family that I will be happy to share with you if you are interested.
The privacy rules under HIPAA became effective in April, 2003, and were finalized in 2006. If your Health Care Power of Attorney, Living Will, or Health Care directive was executed prior to 2003 you may be set up for problems.
What should you do?
If your current health care documents do not have the appropriate HIPAA language you should act immediately to fix this. In our office we generally recommend three documents that work together to give the appropriate authorizations when one is disabled. First, we recommend a Health Care Power of Attorney that authorizes a loved one to make decisions during disability. We incorporate all of the required HIPAA language in this document. Secondly, we recommend a Living Will to express wishes concerning end of life decisions if the patient is in a “Persistent Vegetative State”. Finally, we recommend a “stand alone” HIPAA Authorization. We have found that Hospitals, Doctors, etc. are much more comfortable with this instrument in their files, even though there is HIPAA language in the Health Care Power of Attorney. Additionally, the HIPAA Authorization may be used to allow family members other than the decision maker to communicate with doctors, etc.