Outdated Power of Attorney for Health Care? HIPAA...? HIPAA What?

  • Can you imagine what a nightmare you would endure if say, your widowed father, who had all of his legal documents drawn up years ago, were hospitalized after a stroke?

    Imagine it. There he is. He cannot communicate and may not pull out of it. You are devastated but somewhat comforted by the fact that, after your mom died, Dad had all the right legal documents drawn up.

    You rush home and dig through the pile of papers. You grab the Power of Attorney for Health Care and, to be extra sure, a separate Living Will he made out, using a form he was given by the clinic when he had a checkup.

    You drive back to the hospital. You are designated as the person to make decisions about what happens to your dad in exactly this kind of situation. It’s all covered.
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    You push through to someone holding a bunch of files and hand over the POA for Health Care, and the Living Will.

    Major glitch. You are asked if you have any record that he signed a HIPAA form, allowing you to talk with his doctors and have access to his health information.

    “HIPAA?” you say. “HIPAA what?”

    “The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act,” you are told.

    “Um, no, I don’t think so. But I have this! I have his POA for Health Care. I have his Living Will. What more do you want?”

    “Sorry,” the person says. “But the language here is outdated. Unless he signed a HIPAA form – and since we have no record of that, you would need to produce it – we can’t give you his health information.”

    “But, how can I make the right decisions for him if I can’t get the proper information?” you ask.

    Yikes! This kind of thing can happen. Has happened. The older Power of Attorney for Health Care documents, those drawn up before the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was put in place, may not have the appropriate language to give you the access to health records you need so you can properly make decisions for your loved one.

    Don’t let this happen.

    Some older documents may read in such a way that a new one wouldn’t need to be drawn up. But if your parents have what an attorney friend of mine calls the big three – A Power of Attorney, a Power of Attorney for Health Care (often known, now, as Health Care Directive), and a Last Will and Testament, but these documents haven’t been examined in the last few years, the documents need to be read over by a qualified attorney. This attorney should be one that concentrates on elder law and estate planning.

    Make sure all of the documents meet the new standards. While you’re at it, have them check into the new Medicaid laws, as well. Don’t be locked out of your loved one’s health care, for the lack of an update.

    To learn more about Carol, please go to www.mindingourelders.com or www.mindingoureldersblogs.com.


Published On: May 30, 2007