Broker Check

April 30, 2004



New Privacy Rules Restrict Family Access to Health Information


The following is excerpted from an article written by Bernard Krooks, Esq., a respected Elder Law Attorney with whom we are associated:


            “After a man rushes his wife to the emergency room and helps her get situated in her room, he goes home to shower, change clothes, and eat.  Upon returning, he can’t remember the room number.  The “Information Desk” refuses to provide any information about his wife, not even the room number.

            A 20-year-old lady is stung by bees, suffers a life-threatening allergic reaction and is rushed to a hospital.  No family lives nearby; her mother lives in another state.  The hospital never attempts to contact her mother claiming HIPAA prevents them.

            An elderly man is hospitalized with pneumonia in serious condition and he is not expected to return home.  The doctor and hospital refuse to provide any information about his condition to his only child who lives with him and cares for him.  They say she does not have proper authorization and her father cannot sign one.

            After the unexpected death of a widow in a nursing home on Medicaid, her only surviving descendant wants to find out what caused her death.  Her grandmother had no property, no estate and no personal representative.  The nursing home refuses to provide any information to the grieving granddaughter.  What does she do?

            These disturbing experiences are a result of the newly enacted Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of HIPAA.

            Under HIPAA, doctors, hospitals and other healthcare providers are prohibited from discussing a patient’s status with other family members unless proper written consent forms are signed.  As an estate planning and elder law attorney, I believe HIPAA threatens independence and liberty for many Americans.

            HIPAA will have a negative effect on the medical community, emergency service personnel, and other healthcare providers.  Patients, families and loved ones are also being seriously affected by HIPAA.  In the name of privacy, family members are severely restricted from information essential to provide loving care during a medical crisis.

            Some healthcare providers apply HIPAA stringently, concerned about fines for violations.  They would rather be safe than sorry.  Who can blame them?  But for family members just trying to help, the results are often frustration, a sense of powerlessness and anger.  The federal government has set up a hot line (866-627-7748) to assist families who are dealing with the effects of HIPAA.



            The   key   to  protection   from  HIPAA  is  to  be  designated  in  writing  by  t he  patient  as  a   “Personal Representative” (PR).  This can be accomplished through a properly drafted health care proxy.  A  PR  is treated as if he/she  is  the  patient  so  healthcare  providers  must  disclose medical information.   But when in doubt about a PR’s authority, some health-care providers may provide some information to some people in some situations.  But  they  are not required to do so, without the proper documentation.

            For a minor child, the parent is generally the PR.  However, he/she may have to prove he/she really is a parent of the child.  For an adult, no one, not even a parent, spouse or child, has any right to medical information unless the patient designated the person as the PR.

            Elderly patients and their families suffer most from HIPAA.  Often isolated with children living far away, health-care crises may require emergency intervention.  HIPAA can restrict necessary communications with family members who want to help.  Adult children should help their parents plan ahead for HIPAA, with proper documentation.  Consulting a qualified attorney is appropriate and recommended.

            Act now to preserve your liberty and independence.  Make sure your loved ones have access to your health care information and you have access to theirs in the event of a health care crisis.”


            If you believe you or a loved one may be affected, please call Howard Lisch, Esq. for his advice or a referral to an Elder Law Attorney.

            If you have any questions about the foregoing or any other financial matters, please call us.


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