In 1996, the United States Congress enacted the Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Its purpose was to provide guidelines for protecting patient information and privacy. HIPAA provided healthcare professionals with consistent and uniform policies to help them in the proper handling of adult patient’s private medical information.

It is a moot-point when it comes to a minor’s information, because their medical decisions are generally made by their parents or a legal guardian. But for the purpose of this law, once someone reaches the age of 18 years old, they are no longer deemed a minor, but instead an adult. At that point, medical facilities and doctor’s offices are required to protect that person’s patient information from everyone. That includes parents, legal guardians, adult children, teachers, siblings, grandparents, coaches, and even spouses.

What if There is No HIPAA Authorization?

While it makes sense that such safeguards are put into place, such restrictions can also create challenges when there is no HIPAA Authorization and no Healthcare Directive to offer guidance.

When there is no valid HIPAA Authorization in place, the infirmed or incapacitated person is faced with a multitude of issues. Among them,

  • In the case of an emergency, no one can make decisions on their behalf.
  • If they become incapacitated, no one can access their medical records and discuss their medical care unless they get a court order. That can be a time consuming and costly process.
  • If they need immediate care where a life or death decision must be made, not having an authorized decision maker can delay or impede the process.
  • Most healthcare facilities, in fear of being sued, will err on the side of caution when it comes to the release of patient information. They don’t want to accidentally disclose private information to someone (even a family member) that you didn’t want to know your information.

These are among the many good reasons why it is critical to not only have a valid HIPAA Authorization but also a Healthcare Directive.  

If the HIPAA Authorization is created as part of the comprehensive estate plan, the drafting attorney will make sure all of the documents work together. If the form is created as a standalone document (which I would not recommend), you can have a lawyer prepare it or you can fill out a form. Each state has its own repository of medical forms. Here is a link to California’s Department of Health and Human Services | Department of Health Care Services.

Francine D. Ward
Attorney-At-Law, Author, Speaker

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