Single People and US Privacy Laws
Lately I've been thinking about US privacy laws and the fact that they ensure some important protections but can also pose serious difficulties for people.
Take my friend Olivia (not her real name). She is a single mom in her early 20s, working full-time in a downtown Denver accounting office and doing her best to raise her young daughter by herself, with some help from her parents.
If Olivia were to, God forbid, get sick or be involved in an accident and lose the ability to communicate, her parents would not be able to talk with the doctors on her behalf unless she has taken the precaution of filling out a medical release form ahead of time.
Once a person is legally an adult----age 18 in the U.S. (except for Alabama and Nebraska, both 19, and Mississippi, 21)----today's privacy laws dictate that his or her medical and financial records are private. If you are the parent, it means you are no longer entitled to see your child's records, nor can you make medical or financial decisions for him or her.
The same rules apply to an elderly person who has not provided her physician with a medical release form or designated a power of attorney----the physician is not allowed to discuss information related to the hospital stay with the patient's children.
And if your 18-year old son loses his debit card while traveling in Spain this summer, you or his other parent would be powerless to access his bank account or help him replace the lost card unless one of you had been appointed with a power of attorney before he left.
Therefore, if you are a single person, the parent of a single adult, or the child of an elderly parent, here are some precautions to consider (but please check with your attorney to see if they're appropriate for you):
- Appoint a trusted parent, other relative, or friend to serve as health-care proxy. (Search the Internet for "health-care proxy" and state of residence to download a form, which can be filled out; give copies to the proxy and your doctors.)
- Download and fill out a release form from HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, the act that protects patient privacy. The release gives medical professionals permission to share information with those named on the form, so the health-care proxy needs to be listed on the form. This form is provided by various organizations on the Internet (although, curiously, we couldn't find it on the HIPAA website itself). Give copies of the form to your physicians and to the people named on the form.
- Fill out a power of attorney form (also easily found on the Internet) that allows the designated person to access your financial accounts. Check with your attorney to see if a financial power of attorney or general power of attorney would be the right choice for you.
Taking some precautions ahead of time can save a lot of hassle and frustration down the road.