When you apply for health insurance, you usually give the company providing the coverage the right to see your insurance and medical records, at least to some degree. How far back they can look varies by state and is written into federal and state laws and state insurance commission regulations. These laws vary by state and often, different insurance companies have different procedures from one another. Websites you give your information to may be exempt from many provisions of these laws.
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What does the law say about the privacy of my medical and insurance records?
In almost all cases, the law says that persons or companies you have granted access to your medical and health insurance records cannot share that information with anyone other than those people or companies that you specifically allow them to unless allowed by law. These people and firms would include doctors, nurses, medical technicians, clerical employees, hospitals, and laboratories.
Much has been said about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and its treatment of privacy rights. Under its provisions, health care providers in all states have to meet the minimum standards they have set down. Anything to do with the treatment or payment for treatment you receive is covered by the law. Some states have stricter privacy laws, but none can fall below the minimum standards set by HIPPA.
HIPPA has some serious flaws; your information can be given out without your consent for treatment or payment reasons. It may be given to pharmaceutical firms or medical equipment manufacturers without your permission if recalls are being made. In these cases, marketing use of the information is also allowed.
HIPPA does not grant you the right to sue under its provisions, only the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services can initiate legal actions under the law. Keep in mind that electronic versions of your medical and insurance records that you provide to websites are usually not covered by HIPPA. Law enforcement can obtain copies of this information; websites can be served with a subpoena for your medical records.
School health care records are considered education records and fall under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). You can check on your rights of privacy for your children’s school health records at the U.S. Department of Education website at www.ed.gov/offices/OM /fpco/ferpa/index.html.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) an insurance company can use consumer reports to determine rates for insurance policies and to screen high-risk applicants, but they must comply with the provisions of the Act. Any adverse action they take such as a denial of insurance, any rate increases or policy terminations that are based on information from a consumer report they obtain, requires them to provide a notice of the adverse action to you.
You can get information concerning your state’s laws about obtaining your medical records from health care providers at Georgetown University’s Center on Medical Record Rights and Privacy website. The Privacy Rights Clearing House has important information about your rights under the law.
Whom should I give such access to?
You should grant access only to those individuals and companies that absolutely need it. Keep this in mind when presented with a form to sign that would grant such access. Ask them why they need it and what the consequences are for not allowing them to see your records.
The collection of personal data is a controversial issue today. Many companies request information they simply in which they don’t need or have a valid purpose. Be careful who you allow to view your insurance or medical records. Always find out who they may be planning to share that information with outside their organization. Protect your privacy; always ask questions when giving this information out.
Do I have a right to see my medical and health insurance records?
Yes you do. They are your records and any doctor, hospital or insurance company cannot refuse to let you see these records. They can charge reasonable fees for any copying or postage costs they may incur in getting these records to you however. Additionally, you may have to write a formal request for the documents in question; a lawyer can help you with this if needed.
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