When it comes to privacy and health care we all have questions. Just what is HIPAA? Who can access our records? How much permission should we provide? Many of remember the time – a simpler time – before 1996 when the President signed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act into law.

Planning for our future, however, require us to think about who should be our decision maker or decision makers and what, if any, access they should have to our private medical records both in New York and throughout the nation. Estate planning requires us to think about these things and the decisions you make can be with you indefinitely so it is good for you to have a handle now on just what that form at the doctor’s office really means.

Here are 5 things you should know about HIPAA and your privacy rights:

1. The Privacy Rule requires certain covered medical providers to provide you with a notice of its privacy practices. The notice is long because the Rule requires that the notice contain certain information. The notice must describe the ways in which the provider may use and disclose protected health information, its duty to protect privacy, provide a notice of privacy practices, and abide by the terms of the current notice. The notice must describe your rights including the right to complain to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and to the provider, if you believe your privacy rights have been violated. The notice must include a point of contact for further information and for making complaints to the provider. Your provider must make a good faith effort to obtain your signature acknowledging receipt of the notice. If you refuse to sign, the provider will note it in your record.

2. You have the right to inspect, review, and receive a copy of your medical records and billing records that are held by your health plan and health care providers.

3. A provider cannot deny you a copy of your records because you have not paid for the services you received. It may charge the reasonable cost to copy and mail your records to you but it cannot charge you a fee for searching or retrieving your records.

4. There are no restrictions on the use or disclosure of your medical records if you cannot be identified as the person that received the medical services.

5. A provider may not disclose your information to, for example, a life insurer for coverage purposes, your employer, or to a pharmaceutical firm for their own marketing purposes without your authorization.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule gives you important protections so that your health information remains private and can be disclosed only with your consent in certain circumstances. While it may not make complete sense, it is designed for your protection. Let’s set a time to talk about the health care planning portion of your estate plan and make sure you are getting the protection you need.