Car Insurance Companies and Your Private Health Information
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)
is a federal law that strives to protect the privacy of your health and
medical information. The HIPAA system is in two parts: doctors and medical
facilities must keep your information private and not disclose it to anyone
outside the medical field without your permission AND you have complete
control over who gets access to your health and medical information.
In other words, unless you give a person or corporation your health or
medical information (or give them written permission to access that information),
your health and medical information remains private within the medical
But what happens when you are hurt in a
car accident? Who should have access to your health and medical information? This is
time to be very cautious and to use your HIPAA rights to maintain your
privacy as much as possible.
Almost as soon as you return home from the scene of a car accident (or
from the emergency room after a car accident), you will be contacted by the
car insurance company for the knucklehead that hit you. The insurance representative
will be very nice and sympathetic and will ask about what happened and
your injuries. They will tell you that they will pay for your medical
bills (they don't tell you that the payment will only happen once,
when you are completely done with your medical treatment, which may be
a year or more away). They will tell you that they will, of course, need
to have access to your medical records so they can make sure they are
paying the correct medical bills. They will send you a piece of paper
that is full of fine print and legalese, and ask that you sign and return
the paper so they can follow your recovery. STOP. Do not sign this paper,
or at least not without modifying it.
The paper you will be asked to sign is a Release and Authorization for
Disclosure of Health Information under HIPAA. Without your permission,
the insurance company can't access your medical or health information.
If you give the striking driver's insurance company unlimited access
to your medical and health information, you will have completely lost
your privacy in your medical and health information. The Authorization
proposed by the insurance company is unlimited. It will give them access
to whatever medical and health information they can find—no matter
how far back in your life and no matter whether the medical condition
has any relation to your auto injury.
Even worse, the auto insurance company is not covered by HIPAA. This means
that it has
no legal obligation to maintain the privacy of the medical and health information
they have gathered with your Release. For instance, as soon as the insurance
representative hangs up the phone, your claim will be entered into a national
insurance data base, describing your injuries and listing your name and
other identifying information. Unlike your doctor (or even, arguably,
your own auto insurance company), the striking driver's insurance
no duty to maintain your privacy to medical and health information if you
give it to them. With one quick signature on a form, you will have made
your health and medical history an open book. So what is the alternative?
If you want to get your case resolved with the other guy's insurance
company, they say you have to sign the Authorization.
You do have rights and there are ways to protect those rights to maintain
privacy and control over your health and medical information. First, and
easiest, you can modify the Authorization by limiting the medical information
you are releasing solely to information related to your auto injuries.
You can hand write on the form this limitation, listing the medical providers
who are specifically authorized to release information to the insurance
company. Or you can list physical conditions that are involved in the
car accident, and limit the release to those conditions. As you move through
your medical treatment, you can update the limitations on the Authorization,
by adding medical providers or conditions. Most auto insurance companies
will work with you if you want to take this approach and will ask for
your specific permission to obtain particular records if they see they
Or, you can refuse to sign the Authorization and inform the insurance representative
that you will gather all the medical records and documentation that will
be needed for them to review and evaluate your claim and you will provide
just that documentation to them. However, unless you are experienced in
medical or legal fields, this may not be a viable option for you when
you don't know how to identify all the medical providers and how to
assemble all that documentation in a way to meet the needs of the insurance
company evaluating your claim.
Or, you can contact experienced car accident lawyers, such as Clawson &
Clawson LLP. Experienced personal injury attorneys know how assemble the
necessary medical records and documentation that is needed for the insurance
company to evaluate the claim, and still maintain the privacy of car accident
victims. Experienced auto injury attorneys also know that, when an insurance
company will not properly evaluate the car accident claim, sometimes a
lawsuit has to be filed and that HIPAA will protect you in a lawsuit.
The attorneys will ask the Court to enter an order protecting the confidentiality
and privacy of your medical and health information.
In this day and age we all should be vigilant to protect our privacy—especially
our medical information. HIPAA was written for you—the patient.
Don't give up your rights to medical and health information privacy
when you have to make an auto injury claim.