Understanding HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) laws is no easy feat—but in some situations, it can be crucial to understand the rights this act grants you. In a story posted to Reddit’s r/legaladvice on Wednesday, a 24-year-old woman inquired about her HIPAA rights after a surgery assistant in her doctor's office told her parents that she was pregnant without her consent.
The Original Poster (or OP, in Reddit lingo) explained that she found out she was pregnant after a trip to the hospital for an unrelated surgery. The woman, who said her birth control had failed, explained that she has looked into abortion options, but due to the cost and the other surgical procedure she would need, she hasn't yet figured out whether to keep the pregnancy.
When she went in for her surgical consultation, the doctor explained that he would prefer if she terminated the pregnancy before he went ahead with the procedure. However, he told her that to schedule the procedure, she would have to make the appointment through his assistant, which she referred to as “A.”
“[A] called me shortly after the surgical consultation and pressured me the entire phone call to keep the baby,” the woman explained on Reddit, adding that the assistant refused to schedule the appointment until she had an abortion.
“I’ve had to put the appointment off and wait until then, which is fine, but my parents are in on why I need the surgery,” she wrote. “I’ve had to come up with excuses as to why I can’t schedule it yet because I don’t want them to try to pressure me to not terminate.”
Her situation took a turn for the worse when she received a text from her dad that read, “We know why you haven’t scheduled the appointment and we’re very disappointed in you.”
Apparently, the woman’s parents called to schedule the appointment for her. That's when “A” told them about her pregnancy.
“I never gave her or anyone else [permission] to disclose my medical status to anyone and I feel like my rights as a patient have been violated,” she wrote. “Do I have grounds for legal recourse, what would my next steps be and what should I do from here.”
The OP’s inquiry sparked dozens of responses, most asking to clarify her situation. The woman clarified that she was unsure if she filled out any specific paperwork that would have permitted her parents from seeing her medical records, but said she likely noted that didn’t want her information to be shared. Some users advised her to file a HIPAA complaint and seek legal action.
"Absolutely follow up with complaints/official grievances about the assistant who pressured you to terminate (and the women in the hospital, frankly)," one commenter responded. "Hospitals (in my area, anyway) have representatives dedicated to investigating these types of issues and they take them seriously."
HIPAA “gives you rights over your health information and sets rules and limits on who can look at and receive your health information,” according to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). While HIPAA laws can vary depending on the situation, the HHS website states that once an individual turns 18, they can “exercise all rights granted by the HIPAA Privacy Rule with respect to all protected health information about him or her.”
The HHS website also states that “Generally, the parent would no longer be the personal representative of his or her child once the child reaches the age of majority or becomes emancipated, and therefore, would no longer control the health information about his or her child.”
While this woman’s situation appears to violate these important medical privacy laws, anyone in a similar situation should review their rights covered by HIPAA if they are considering seeking legal action.
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