Sunday, August 16, 2015

Federal Health Privacy Law: Misused and Misinterpreted

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA, as it is more commonly known, protects the privacy of patients’ identifiable health information. At the same time, it permits the disclosure of health information needed for patient care and other important purposes. In an article by Paula Span in the New York Times, 7/17/15 entitled “Hipaa’s Use as Code of Silence Often Misinterprets the Law”, describes how the law is misused and abused: “‘It’s become an all-purpose excuse for things people don’t want to talk about,’ said Carol Levine, director of the United Hospital Fund’s Families and Health Care Project, which has published a Hipaa guide for family caregivers."

After citing many examples of how the law is misused, Span sets the record straight:
  • The law does not prohibit health care providers from sharing information with family, friends or caregivers unless the patient specifically objects.
  • Hipaa applies only to health care providers, health insurers, clearinghouses that manage and store health data, and their business associates. A spouse talking in a public place about her husband’s medical problems or a church publishing the names of hospitalized parishioners are not violating HIPAA.
  • Family members can provide information - “‘How does keeping information confidential stop you from listening to someone?’” said Eric Carlson, the directing attorney for Justice in Aging, a legal advocacy group in California. ‘There’s no Hipaa privacy consideration there.’”
  • When a caregiver is denied access to medical information, the "caregiver’s strongest defense, …is to be the patient’s personal representative — a health care proxy or guardian, or with power of attorney — or to have the patient authorize the release of information. In such cases, providers must comply."
  • An assisted living facility or nursing home can report a death or give someone’s general condition and location, assuming the patient remains within the facility.

Representative Doris Matsui, Democrat of California, hearing complaints about HIPAA from constituents, has introduced legislation to clarify who can divulge what and under what circumstances.

Read the full article here…
Paula Span writes The New Old Age column for the New York Times

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