Back to Basics: What is a Medical Power of Attorney?
A Medical Power of Attorney is similar to the Financial Power of Attorney, but this document covers everything about your physical person. It covers not only medical decisions, but also potential nursing home placements and end of life decisions.
Medical Power of Attorney for Adult Children
I had a client whose child was in a very serious car accident. Their child turned 18 while he was in the hospital and the parents’ authority to make medical decisions stopped on his birthday. The hospital looked to the parents initially to make emergency decisions. But once their child was stabilized and they had to make decisions regarding on-going care.
The hospital required the parents to get a court order to be their child’s legal decision maker. In Colorado, that court process is called a “guardianship”. A guardianship is similar to a conservator-ship, as I described last month. However, instead of dealing with money and assets, the guardian deals with decisions regarding the physical person, such as medical decisions and care placements. Again, this could be a completely avoidable expense if we are proactive and have a valid Medical Power of Attorney in place.
What is a HIPAA Release?
HIPAA stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. The whole goal of this federal law was to create a national standard to protect people’s personal and sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent.
You are likely already signing a HIPAA release every couple of years with your doctor’s office. This is primarily so that they can talk to your insurance company for billing purposes. On that same form, you can also provide specified family members and friends access to your medical information. The downside to that HIPAA form is that it stays with your doctor or their medical practice. It doesn’t necessarily travel with you. If you go to a hospital or a different provider for care, they won’t have that HIPAA release on record. With a free-standing HIPAA release, one that can travel with you, you can share that information with any medical provider.
What HIPAA Can and Cannot Do for You
The HIPAA release doesn’t allow someone to make medical decisions for you. That authority is only allowed under a Medical Power of Attorney. Instead, the HIPAA release allows the medical staff to share medical information with people you designate. This can be super helpful for your adult children. You might list your spouse as your agent under your medical power of attorney. They will be making all of the decisions, but your children will still want to call the hospital to get updates on your health. This is where the HIPAA can be used to give them that authority.
I know HIPAA releases often get overlooked, but please don’t forget to execute one. It can be a huge help for everyone involved.
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