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  • By: Farren Sheehan, Esq.
  • Published: November 11, 2017

When you visit a doctor’s office or have medical treatment done, most physicians’ offices now require the patient to read and sign a HIPAA authorization. What is a HIPAA release? The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law that includes privacy provisions intended to protect a patient’s confidential medical information. The HIPAA law requires that health care providers ensure privacy of patient health information and medical records. In this article we will discuss state and federal health privacy laws and legal forms that you may encounter. Austin probate lawyer Farren Sheehan can help explain these various legal documents and advise you on estate planning documents to protect your property and privacy.

Health Insurance Portability And Accountability Act

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law enacted in 1996. This federal law includes requirements for protecting the privacy and security of health care information. Pursuant to this law, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) issued regulations to define the requirements of specific rules within HIPAA. These rules include:

  • The HIPAA Privacy Rule. The HIPAA Privacy Rule gives consumers rights over their own healthcare information. It sets limits on access to the information. The rule applies to all forms of protected health information, including oral, written and electronic medical information.
  • The HIPAA Security Rule. The HIPAA Security Rule requires certain entities to maintain safeguards over electronic protected health information and ensure that the information is secure.
  • The HIPAA Breach Notification Rule. The HIPAA Breach Notification Rule requires certain entities and their business associates to provide notice to affected consumers and to HHS if security of the protected health information is breached.

Texas Health Privacy Laws

In addition to HIPAA, Texas has a law called the Texas Medical Records Privacy Act that was enacted in 2012. This law is broader than HIPAA because it applies to health care providers, health plans, health insurance processors, and any individual, business or organization (and their employees and agents) that obtains, stores or possesses protected health information. Under the Texas law, in most cases these entities must obtain the individual’s authorization before using or disclosing protected health information.

In addition, other Texas laws protect from disclosure specific types of medical information. Examples include communications between doctors and patients, mental health records, donor information, and genetic testing records.

Authorization Forms

Under these state and federal laws, patients have the right to privacy of their protected health information. Patients also have the right to access their medical records and obtain copies, except in special cases where access might endanger them.

Healthcare providers usually have forms advising patients of their privacy rights and authorizing disclosure in certain circumstances. These forms are often referred to as HIPAA releases or medical records authorizations. The language of the forms may vary; however, these forms are designed to provide the consumer with information about their right to privacy, explain how the healthcare information may be used, and authorize disclosure of their medical information to persons of the patient’s choosing.

For example, sometimes a patient has a team of healthcare providers and will need to authorize that the entire team be allowed access to the medical records. Alternatively, a patient may authorize that her spouse have access to her healthcare information so that he can act as her agent under a Medical Power of Attorney. By using these authorization forms, in most instances the patient controls what information the healthcare provider may disclose and to whom the protected information may be disclosed.

Some of these forms may seem complicated or they may need to be coordinated with other legal documents such as Medical Powers of Attorney. If you have questions about HIPAA releases, privacy release authorizations or legal documents such as Powers of Attorney, please contact Austin probate attorney Farren Sheehan for a consultation.

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