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The HIPAA & Your Advance Health Care Directives

Estate planning is just one of the branches of the tree we call elder law, and it is an important one but there are other legal issues that are intrinsically intertwined with the process of aging as well. As life spans continue to grow longer and medical technology advances the possibility of a period of end-of-life incapacity has become a very real one, and any comprehensive plan is going to prepare for this via the execution of advance health care directives.

The two advance directives that many would consider to be a must are a living will and a health care proxy or what is alternately referred to as a durable medical power of attorney. With a living will you express your health care preferences with regard to the types of medical procedures you would approve of if you were to become incapacitated at some juncture and unable to communicate your wishes. The central issue in a living will is usually going to be that of life support and if you would prefer to be kept alive by artificial means if there was no reasonable hope for recovery.

In addition to the living will, many people will also choose to include a health care proxy. With this document you name someone who you empower to make medical decisions for you should you be unable to do so for yourself.

If you included these directives in your long term plan some years ago they may not have addressed the relevant provisions that were contained in the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act when it was passed back in 1996. This act states that health care providers cannot divulge any personal medical information without the consent of the patient. So depending on the way that your health care proxy document is worded, a given hospital may not recognize it and refuse to discuss your condition with your representative. This can be avoided by altering the document to include the correct verbiage or by adding an HIPAA release to your advance directives.

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