HIPAA: Understanding Patient Privacy Laws — Daily Rise: Friday, July 29

HIPAA: Understanding Patient Privacy Laws

Do federal privacy laws ban medical providers from communicating with patients’ loved ones? Not exactly.

Although we often hear the acronym HIPAA, many patients don’t understand the nuances of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

In a recent piece for the Washington Post, Charles G. Kels, a senior attorney at the American Medical Association, debunks five myths about patient privacy. Myth #1: “HIPAA prohibits communicating with patients’ loved ones.”

“As the former head of HIPAA enforcement told Congress, “HIPAA is meant to be a valve, not a blockage.” When the patient is present and clearheaded, the law allows hospitals to share relevant information with loved ones so long as the patient does not protest. This can be accomplished through the patient’s agreement or acquiescence, or based on a doctor’s professional judgment that the patient does not object. If a person accompanies the patient to an appointment, for example, doctors can reasonably infer that discussing the patient’s treatment in front of that individual is appropriate.”

Some patients may appreicate a family member or friend providing support in medical decisions. Others may decide that information should remain private. Patients need to make informed decisions about what’s right for them. Every patient needs to educate themselves in order to make sure your providers are respecting our wishes.

Check out the entire piece to get a better understanding of federal privacy rules.

Another Day, Another State, Another Rate Hike

The daily onslaught of health insurance rate hike requests continues.

Philly Voice shares the news that six major health insurance companies in Pennsylvania have all requested double-digit rate increases for next year.

The rate hike requests broken down by insurer:

  • 25.4 percent to 48.1 percent for Highmark companies
  • 19.9 percent to 22.5 percent for Independence Blue Cross
  • 17.2 percent for Aetna Health Inc.
  • 0.9 percent to 16.2 percent for UPMC companies

“Insurance companies continue to shift these costs on to people every year,” a Philadelphia-based enrollment assister said at a public hearing on the rate hikes, according to the Philly Voice. “These actions have real consequences. Any further increase in costs will push people to [enroll in] worse plans or [to opt] out of the marketplace completely.”

Anthem vs. Justice

Anthem isn’t giving up its plan to become an even bigger insurance giant.

The insurance behemoth is fighting back against the U.S. Department of Justice’s attempts to block Anthem’s $48 billion merger with rival health insurer Cigna Corp. In a new legal filing, the company disputes the Justice Department’s claim that a bigger, more powerful Anthem will reduce competition, increase costs and harm patients.

We’re in insurance merger season. On June 22, the same day that the Justice Department sued to stop the Anthem-Cigna deal, Bloomberg notes that, the department also filed a lawsuit to block the Aetna Inc.’s acquisition of Humana Inc.

Big insurance companies already use their size and power to block access to life-saving treatments. Even bigger, more powerful insurance companies — with less competition — will be terrible for patients.

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