Although it’s been in effect for more than six months, there’s still a lot about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, that many are unaware of. Not knowing, though, can mean big problems for anyone trying to reach you if you’ve been admitted into a hospital – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
September was also an important month as more of the laws protections kicked in. Blame it on the advances of technology and privacy concerns that continue to grow in this country. Most recently, concerns were raised over identity theft on the new government healthcare site that directs the Affordable Healthcare Act. For us, as elder care lawyers, it means better opportunities to protect our clients. But those opportunities come with a cost.
The History of HIPAA
Here’s what some don’t know: efforts to get this law passed have survived three presidencies. There were always privacy concerns, but drawing the line in the sand was challenging because of the cost that privacy would equate to. From one perspective, better privacy safeguards means no information at all leaves a doctor’s or nurse’s lips without proper authorization. That means if you’re a family member attempting to find your loved one after a car accident, unless you can speak with another family member or friend of your loved one, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to find out which hospital he’s been admitted into. If you’re not included in the various legal documents on file, you’ll have to find another way.
Take it to the Cloud
There is so much data being moved to the “cloud” (which is simply online storage we can save that allows us to access our documents, music and other information from anywhere) and as those moves are being made, getting it right the first time is absolutely crucial. Not only that, but there will be more people who could potentially handle medical records, all of which are being stored on a cloud somewhere in cyberspace.
Remember, the sole purpose of HIPAA is to better protect patients’ rights. Because so much is now found online, it was just a matter of time before those in the healthcare sector began incorporating an online bank for patient information. From their accounting to drug reporting to providing statistics for government records: if you’re a medical professional, you know how much time is spent uploading data. The problem was how to ensure patients’ privacy was kept at all times. The confidentiality issues are staggering and there was (and always will be) a lot at stake. Even if those in Congress couldn’t figure out the details, they did understand the importance of what they’d been asked to do.
As estate planning lawyers, we know how important it is to have legally binding HIPAA authorizations as part of your advance medical directive. We take that responsibility serious and encourage all of our clients to take the time to better understand the purposes and limitations associated with this new law. It’s all about compliance and taking no unnecessary risks. That’s what the law is all about – even in its earliest days in the Clinton Administration.
Along with the privacy considerations are other rights, too. Did you know that you can pay cash for any procedure and not have any detail reported to your insurance company? That might not be important a year from now, depending on what ultimately happens with Obamacare; as you know, part of that law prevents an insurance company from raising rates or declining an application based on pre-existing conditions. The idea that it’s available now, though, is peace of mind for many Americans.
As always, we encourage our clients – both established and new – to give us a call to discuss any of these changes and they might affect your estate planning efforts.