Do you need a HIPAA Authorization?
Many people are unfamiliar with this important document and surprisingly, many estate planning attorneys do not understand its significance and do not include it in their client documents. HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which was enacted in 1996 and protects your health information from disclosure by others. Without a patient’s explicit authorization, a medical provider such as a doctor or hospital cannot legally share your health information with your family or loved ones, even in medical emergencies when decisions need to be made. The HIPAA Authorization allows you to plan ahead and allow certain people access to your medical information – the explicit authorization required by federal law to share your protected health information. This is a document that even many experienced estate planning attorneys are unaware of and do not use, but at Woods Law Group it is part of every comprehensive estate plan package.
Consider this real-life example illustrating problems that can arise without a HIPAA Authorization: A family friend that we’ll call Mike was admitted to the hospital with double pneumonia. Mike had done some basic estate planning and had a health care power of attorney and living will, but he did not have a HIPAA Authorization form. Because of the pneumonia, Mike slipped into a coma. His wife, being his Health Care Agent was in charge of making his health care decisions. One doctor told her that Mike would pull through and come out of the coma, while another doctor told her that Mike would not wake up and that she should start preparing to withdraw support. However, the first doctor had only limited access to Mike’s medical history while the second doctor had access to all of Mike’s medical information and he could see that Mike had an underlying condition that made his recovery impossible. Unfortunately, the doctor could not reveal this underlying condition or even state that Mike had this condition because he had to protect Mike’s medical history. Mike’s wife had to make all of her decisions in a vacuum, without knowing all of the facts. Mike’s wife tried to be positive, holding out hope that the first doctor was right and that Mike would eventually recover from his coma. After a long period of time, Mike’s wife lost hope and could no longer bear to watch her unresponsive husband deteriorate while the family suffered. She used the living will and withdrew Mike from support. It wasn’t until the death certificate was issued that Mike’s family finally found out about his underlying condition – the true cause of his death. The family felt terrible because they had left Mike on support much longer than they would have, had they known or had access to his entire medical history. If Mike’s had added his wife to a HIPAA Authorization, she would have had the full picture and would have been better prepared to make decisions.