Car Insurance Companies and Your Private Health Information
What Is the HIPAA?
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
- 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 facilities.
Am I Required to Share Medical Records with Insurance Companies?
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.
Should I Sign a Medical Release for the Insurance Adjuster?
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.
Car Insurance Companies are NOT Covered by HIPAA
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 company has 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.
Modifying Your Authorization Form
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 handwrite 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 need them.
Refusing to Sign the Authorization Form
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.
Securing Professional Representation
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. Instead, contact Clawson & Clawson, LLP today to schedule a free consultation and discuss your case.