HIPAA: What more do you need to know?

HIPAA: What more do you need to know?

HIPAA Hoops!

  • Banished to that little red square ten feet back from the pharmacy counter?
  • Can’t email the pediatrician anymore?
  • Feel like you’re signing the same form every time you see a new doctor or go to a hospital?

These rules and forms may be annoying, but they are the law. This year is the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA). Avoiding the neighborhood rumor mill might be reason enough to put up with the everyday rules. What about bigger issues?

HIPAA Hurdles
The “Adult” Child. Say your child gets into his or her first-pick college. You decide they should get the school insurance. That means you want to cancel the policy you had for them until now. Easy enough, right? Well if Junior or Princess is 18, you’d better hope they remember to make that call. We can’t talk to you about their coverage. Nor can we do anything with their policy for you. Because of HIPAA, they have to cancel that policy themselves. Compared to that little red square at the pharmacy, that might be a next level of effort. Still, it’s the law.

“Helping While Handcuffed.” Say you notice an elder family member having odd spells or memory issues. You want to know if they are ill. You want to know if there is anything you should do to care for them. If you’re not on their authorization form, you’re not going to get what you want from a provider. This can be really stressful if you are someone’s only available support.

“Houston, we have a problem.” Then there are the real nail biter HIPAA moments – getting access to medical information for a loved one in a crisis. A member of our team wrote about just calling for news after surgery. What happens if a doctor or hospital needs medical history to decide the safest treatment? Not on file to access their personal health information (PHI)? Then you can’t help.

BTW - Ask Those Tough Questions
It’s a good idea to ask loved ones to list you on their standard authorization form. It’s also a good idea to talk about and write down end-of-life wishes. Does your loved one have a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order on file? Ask for a copy. Do they have preferences about organ donation? It’s best to have that record as well. My grandmother was one of those turn-of-the-century “depression baby” Midwesterners. She was as tough as nails and very practical. So she made sure we had what we needed and we never had to ask. That’s often not the case!

Privacy Before HIPAA? Hardly.
It may feel like privacy overkill when those hiccup and hurdle situations come up. Yet, some of us are old enough to remember life before HIPAA. Back in those “good old days,” the University of Illinois conducted a study and found that more than one-third of Fortune 500 companies looked at medical records as part of their hiring decision. Just imagine! As if getting a new job isn’t challenging enough.

  • Could they drop you as a candidate because you are a recovering addict?
  • Could they turn you down because you might need too much time off if your cancer comes back?
  • Could you lose out because of a diagnosis like HIV or Hepatitis C?

What about keeping your job when health care issues come up? You seek psychiatric treatment, and suddenly you lose your job. Before HIPAA, that was actually possible. It happened to FBI agents. It happened to truck drivers.

Hip, Hip, Hip Hurray for HIPAA!
Two decades after HIPAA became law, we take its protections for granted. We assume our private health information is protected from prying eyes. No one can use our health against us. (Just remember to update your standard authorization form if you part ways with someone – partner or other – you gave access to!) We also assume (or should, at least) that whenever we see new doctors we can get and share our information when we need to. The hiccups and hurdles may be frustrating. But when it’s for protection of your privacy, HIPAA’s worth it.

For providers, it's important to know that if the patient has a Power of Attorney (POA) it cannot be used as an authorization to release PHI. If it is the intent of the patient for the POA to receive medical information they must also fill out the standard authorization form OR have a valid Health Care Power of Attorney. A valid POA assigns power to an individual to make health decisions and should be signed and dated by the patient. If a Health Care Power of Attorney is on file that individual will have access to medical records and information to help them make the best decision for the patient.

Have you experienced any HIPAA hurdles? Tell us how you hopped over it.

Most recent update: 10/26/2017.V.3