If you haven't yet updated your Living Will power of attorney to reflect current federal privacy rules, it's time to do so. If you don't have a POA, you should think about obtaining one, especially if you're getting up there in years. According to the Home News Tribune "Update Health Care POA" January 17, 2003, page 5, Health Care Powers of Attorney (Living Wills) are directives that appoint a relative, friend or some other party, known as an "agent", to make medical decisions on your behalf if you can't do so, for reasons ranging from injuries sustained in a car crash to incapacity resulting from dementia. Health care POAs can be written as stand-alone documents but typically are included along with a living trust, a more comprehensive estate-planning tool. It's best to have a lawyer write a POA for you, and it's wise to have an attorney insert any changes. The Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which took effect in 2001, makes it wise to prepare a Living Will and Power of Attorney. These Federal HIPAA regulations aim to safeguard patient medical records by imposing privacy rules on doctors, pharmacists, other medical staff, insurance companies and so on. HIPAA calls for fines - in some cases, stiff ones- and even prison terms for disclosure violations, thus making health care providers think twice about giving out a patient's information to others.
"Powers of Attorney need to be adjusted to allow our clients immediate and hassle-free access to the medical records of the parents and other loved ones on whose behalf they are acting", wrote Arizona attorney Thomas Murphy in this months issue of Arizona Attorney, a publication of the State Bar. We recommend new health care POA Living Wills that would cover the following points: A statement directing physicians, hospitals, pharmacies, insurers and others to release a patient's health records to the agent. Murphy emphasized these directives should be updated to include specific references to HIPAA. The biggest problem is that many insurers will not honor any pre-April POAs, yet agents often must confer with insurance companies before the firms will pay a patient's medical bills.