New Article – HIPAA, Not HIPPO

While HIPAA was signed into federal law nearly a decade ago, it still seems to cause much confusion. While you may hear about it regularly at the doctor’s office and the pharmacy, do you really know what it is or what you’re signing? 

Let’s begin with its acronym. Many times it is mistyped as HIPPA or even mistaken for HIPPO. But, be assured there is no mention of a hippopotamus in HIPAA! It actually stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which was finalized in 2000 and modified in 2002. In that Act was a requirement that the government establish a set of national standards for the protection of certain health information, which is commonly referred to as the “Privacy Rule.” 

The Privacy Rule created federal protections for personal health information held by covered entities (such as health plans and providers). It basically protects your medical privacy, preventing the flow of personal information to unwanted sources. Compliance with the Privacy Rule began in 2003, and noncompliance can result in monetary fines and even imprisonment.

Accordingly, health care providers must adopt and follow a privacy policy. However, sometimes in the name of privacy (and perhaps fear of fines and jail time), these providers withhold information from interested parties. For example, if a family member contacts the hospital to request information about your condition, the hospital may not be at liberty to reveal that information without your consent. While there are some limited exceptions to the Privacy Rule, many health care providers will prefer to restrain the flow of information rather than risk a HIPAA violation. For patients who want information shared with certain individuals, it may be beneficial to sign a consent or authorization form.

Although HIPAA is clearly not as fun an acronym as HIPPO would be, it does refer to an important piece of health care law. After all, a HIPPO could actually cause you medical grief, while HIPAA is intended to protect your medical information.

Jennifer R. Luitjens is Certified as an Elder Law Attorney (CELA) by the National Elder Law Foundation, a non-profit organization accredited by the ABA. She lives in Jericho and practices in South Burlington with the Jarrett Law Office. This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute comprehensive or specific legal advice. The author stresses the need to engage appropriate legal and financial professionals when devising your individual estate plan.