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Why you need a HIPAA (release) and not a HIPPO

At first glance, you may be thinking I’m writing a blog about my latest trip to the zoo but alas, I’ll talk about the amazing hippopotamuses at the San Antonio Zoo another time. Often misspelled and misunderstood, a HIPAA Authorization to Release Information is an important estate planning tool for individuals of all ages.

The “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act” otherwise known as HIPAA was partially enacted in 1996 with the privacy section being finalized in 1999. Part of the Act focused on protecting the privacy of patient’s medical records. Under the law, health care providers and insurance companies must comply with various requirements in order to safeguard individual’s data from unauthorized disclosures.

This Act may sound vaguely familiar to you and that is because you have signed a HIPAA release if you have visited a doctor in the last few years. You know, the document you never read right after the piece of paper you signed acknowledging that you read the office’s billing practices and procedures. This HIPAA release is allowing your medical provider to disclose your protected health information to your insurance companies or other medical providers. This is often a good thing if you want your doctor to communicate with your insurance and other specialists regarding your care.

So why am I talking about a HIPAA in regards to an estate plan? You can create a HIPAA authorization for your own family and loved ones just like your medical provider. Using a HIPAA Authorization to Release Information, you can authorize your medical providers to release medical information that would otherwise be protected under the HIPAA privacy laws to certain family and friends. Your doctor would be able to talk to a relative on the phone and give them medical updates on your treatment or release medical records to your medical power of attorney so that they may make the best, most informed decisions regarding your care.

When you sign a HIPAA release at the doctor’s office it allows you to have your information from that physician’s office released to those you choose. That release of information is governed by the specific form you sign and its termination may be unclear.

However, the HIPAA release in your estate plan typically provides release of your information, to the ones you choose, from any physician you have treatment from and continues up to two years after you pass away.

A HIPAA Authorization to Release Information is just another tool in your estate planning toolbox that allows you to authorize the right people to help when you may need it the most.