Do you need a HIPAA Authorization?

Unfortunately, most people have no idea what this document is or what it does but it is extremely important. 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 too. The HIPAA Authorization allows you to plan ahead of time to give 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, but at Woods Law Group, it is part of our comprehensive estate plans.

Here is a real-life example of the problems of not having a HIPAA Authorization: A family friend that we’ll call Mike went into 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. 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. The problem though, is that 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. Eventually his wife 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.

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