The HIPAA Privacy Rule under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act went into effect in 2003 and includes strict rules prohibiting health care providers, health insurance providers, and similar from sharing your health information - including prohibiting them from sharing it with your spouse or family in an emergency.
While the law is well-intended to protect our privacy, it has come with the tradeoff of creating cumbersome burdens for family members who may receive the ‘silent treatment’ from hospitals and doctors that will not speak to them.
When you visit your doctor, you may be asked to sign a HIPAA form including naming an emergency contact. Many think that this is all that is required, but unfortunately, those forms give you a false sense of security. Those forms only apply to that specific hospital or doctor and some may expire after a certain period of time.
For example, a while back we had a couple visit our office to update their planning. The wife had recently undergone surgery at Rex Hospital. When she had entered the hospital for her treatment, she signed the appropriate forms, including a HIPAA Authorization that Rex was authorized to communicate with her husband. Due to some complications that arose, the woman ended up being transferred from Rex Hospital to Wake Med. When her husband attempted to talk to the doctors and hospital staff at Wake Med they refused to speak with him. The forms that the woman had signed before the surgery were specifically for Rex Hospital and did not apply to Wake Med.
In addition to issues with hospitals and doctors, HIPAA also can rear its ugly head when dealing with insurance and billing matters. If your Durable Power of Attorney or Trustee needs to contact the hospital with a question about a medical bill or if they need to change your health insurance plan, they also can get stone-walled by the HIPAA privacy rule.
In addition to a thorough Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will, we recommend that all adults have a standalone HIPAA Authorization that clearly authorizes your health care providers to communicate with your Health Care Agent, your Durable Power of Attorney, your Trustee, and any other family members or close friends you wish to name.
Get Started on Your Planning & Peace of Mind
We can guide you through the steps of creating a comprehensive health care plan and make the process as easy as possible for you and your family. A great place to start if you're looking to learn more is to attend one of our free public seminars or request our report, Estate Planning Pitfalls: The Twelve Most Common Threats To Your Estate & Your Family’s Future. If you'd like to discuss other ways to get started, call us at (919) 443-3035 or complete our online contact form.
Related Links--Series on Health Care Directives: