Avoid the HIPAA Headache!

In 1996, Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This legislation helps ensure that all medical records, medical billing, and patient accounts meet certain consistent standards with regard to documentation, handling, and privacy. Entities or providers that are in non-compliance with these requirements are subject to criminal and/or civil penalties.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule sets limits and conditions on the uses and disclosures of personal health information without patient authorization. In Arizona, a person must give HIPAA authorization in writing.

A universal HIPAA authorization release form that can be utilized anywhere not just the office or hospital where you signed the document is an important tool to include in your estate plan for several reasons.

First- a HIPAA release form allows your healthcare power of attorney to access your medical records so that they may make informed decisions regarding your healthcare needs.

For example, when my father-in-law Matt fell ill, my mother-in-law Carol began making his healthcare decisions per his Healthcare Power of Attorney. Unfortunately, Matt did not have a HIPAA release form. When it came to the end of his life, Carol was making medical decisions for Matt without fully knowing his medical history. This is because Matta private mandid not share with his wife or family that he had been diagnosed with a disease several years earlier. This information could have helped Carol make some extremely tough decisions near the end of his life.

Second- a HIPAA release form allows your loved ones to call the medical facility you are in to see how you are doing.

Several years ago my friend Mike helped his sister register and move into a hospice facility in Scottsdale. He called the next day to see how she was doing. The following conversation ensued.

Nurse: I’m sorry, we do not have a HIPAA authorization form on file so we cannot disclose any information.

Mike: That’s OK. Just transfer me to her room and I’ll speak with her.

Nurse: I’m sorry. We cannot do that. She is no longer at this facility.

Mike: Where is she?

Nurse: I’m sorry. We cannot disclose any information to you.

Mike spent the next few hours calling around to hospitals, other hospice facilities, and even the morgue to find his sister. After failing, he called the hospice facility back. A very nice nurse told him, “Hypothetically, Mike, if we were going to move a hypothetical patient, we hypothetically would transfer them to the hypothetical facility at this hypothetical address.”

Third- a HIPAA release form can restrict individuals you do not want to get access to your medical information.

My mom experienced heart problems while on vacation this summer and we had to life-flight her to a Denver area hospital. Before we were able to present any documents to the hospital, a very nosy cousin called the hospital and started getting access to my mom’s medical information and status. We were able to stop this flow of information by showing the hospital that this person did not have any legal authority to access this information.

Help yourself and your family avoid these headaches by including this tool in your estate planning toolbox!

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