Laws are often passed that provide some form of protection while simultaneously creating impediments that were really not intended, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is one of these. The HIPAA was originally passed back in 1996, and the letter of the law was completed and passed down by the Department of Health and Human Services in 2001. Health care providers and medical insurers are in possession of the medical records of the people they treat and insure, and the HIPAA was enacted in part to require these entities to keep this information confidential. In most cases it cannot be divulged without the consent of the patient.
This is all well and good, but hospitals have interpreted the law and set guidelines that dictate the actions of the health care providers who treat patients in their facilities. Estate planning attorneys generally recommend that their clients execute a medical power of attorney that gives a person of their choosing the power to make medical decisions in their behalf should they be incapable of doing so for themselves. But due to the hospital HIPAA rules that doctors must work under, there are cases when health care providers will refuse to discuss a patient’s case with his or her chosen medical agent.
This is a problem that can be circumvented with some advance planning. Along with your durable medical power of attorney or health care proxy you can also include a HIPAA release that allows your agent access to your medical information. When this release has been signed the hospital is free of exposure under the HIPAA and your agent can be informed about your condition and act in your behalf. In fact, you can add multiple people to the release so that other family members can freely discuss your situation with health care providers as well.