Friday, August 20

Does HIPAA prohibit questions about vaccination?

Do you ever wonder what's on the other side of that HIPAA paperwork you get at every doctor's appointment? Do you read it every time you have a chance?

I guess that few individuals care to read the form after more than two decades, and even fewer can claim to understand it. However, since 1996, privacy rules in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has made it illegal to disclose some health information to unauthorized persons without your authorization. Additionally, it requires the doctor's office to inform you on how your information is used and protected.

Is vaccination status protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)?

HIPAA has been misinterpreted and regularly featured in the news recently, which is surprising for a law that has been around for so long. For example:

When asked if she had been vaccinated against COVID-19, a Georgia congresswoman said, "Your... inquiry infringes on my HIPAA rights. Because of our HIPAA protections, we are not required to divulge our medical data, which includes vaccination records." Sorry, but you're wrong.

An NFL quarterback when asked the same question, responded in a similar style."I don't particularly think that's exactly important; I think that's HIPAA,"  Again, incorrect.

The lieutenant governor of North Carolina deemed President Biden's proposal to have public health officials canvass communities door-to-door to persuade unvaccinated people to receive a COVID vaccination illegal due to HIPAA laws. No, it isn't unlawful, and HIPAA doesn't cover this.

It's not only athletes and legislators that get HIPAA and vaccination status wrong. Throughout the pandemic,  Fake mask exemption cards were available online. These cards are intended to allow the owner not to wear masks For medical reasons.  Some fake cards state that the cardholder is not obligated to answer any inquiries regarding their medical status due to HIPAA.

Unfortunately, this, like the other examples, misunderstands what HIPAA covers and demands.

What you should understand and know about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

First and foremost, HIPAA's principal objective is to assist people in maintaining their healthcare insurance coverage if they change or lose their jobs. The Act encouraged the use of electronic records to convey patient data. Keep in mind that electronic data transfer was not common in 1996. To address concerns about keeping our health information private, rules were quickly established.

The HIPAA privacy laws, on the other hand, are rather strict: they forbid people from disclosing their protected health information (PHI) without your permission. They have no bearing on whether or not you can or should respond to queries regarding your vaccination status or any other health concern. That isn't what HIPAA is about.

To be clear, HIPAA defines "protected health information" as "information about a person's health that is not publicly available."

Individually identifiable health information — that is, medical information that includes information that identifies you, such as your name, address, or date of birth.

 information about a physical or mental condition you have or have had in the past.

Details about payments made for healthcare you've received.

The privacy regulation requires the following. Anyone who has access to your protected health information, such as healthcare professionals, insurers, or medical billing companies, is required to follow certain rules.

Protect health information from security risks by ensuring that it is kept secret.

Ensure that staff are aware of the need of maintaining the confidentiality of PHI and that they are taught how to do so.

There are certain exceptions to the confidentiality of PHI. PHI can be disclosed without your consent, for example, to authorize medical treatment, submit invoices to your health insurance provider, or when required by law. If your doctor shares your PHI with another doctor on your treatment team, it is not a violation of HIPAA. If you haven't signed papers permitting your doctor to share your PHI with a family member or friend, or any member of the public who asks it, it's a violation. (By the way, you'll need to sign releases issued by the medical practice or declare that someone can talk to your doctors about your health care information. 

Visit this Health Information Privacy page to learn more about your unique HIPAA rights.

What about  Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and vaccination status?

What about HIPAA and whether or not you've been vaccinated?

As previously stated, HIPAA does not prohibit anybody from inquiring about your vaccination status. There's also nothing in it that says you can't be asked for evidence of vaccination by companies like gyms, restaurants, or movie theatres, or by your job. Finally, HIPAA privacy regulations do not prevent you from responding to questions concerning vaccination status.

It's entirely up to you whether or not you tell others whether or not you've been vaccinated (and regardless of whether you divulge this information, I hope the answer is yes). Of course, if you choose not to notify your employer, you will most certainly be deemed unvaccinated, which might result in changes in how or where you work, as well as losing your job. But, once again, this has nothing to do with HIPAA.

You may think it is impolite, inquisitive, or improper if a friend, relative, or stranger inquires about your vaccination history or any other health-related issue. However, it is not against the law. Don't blame HIPAA if you choose not to respond. 

No content on this site, regardless of date, should be used to replace direct medical advice from your doctor or another trained practitioner.
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