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HIPAA and LGBT Healthcare Equality

From time to time, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is incorrectly cited as an obstacle to hospital visitation rights and decision making authority for LGBT families. On the contrary, HIPAA specifically provides a mechanism for patients to indicate their wishes in these areas.

HIPAA is a 1996 federal law that is intended to improve the portability and continuity of health insurance coverage and to establish national health information privacy standards. The regulations provide protections for the privacy of certain individually identifiable health data, referred to as “protected health information,” and establish rules balancing patient rights with the need to protect public health.

HIPAA should not be used as an excuse to deny rights to LGBT patients. Under HIPAA regulations, hospitals may use or disclose a patient’s protected health information to a family member, other relative, close personal friend or any other person the patient identifies. The law respects the patient’s wishes on matters of privacy and confidentiality.

As an added layer of protection, legal experts advise that patients express their wishes regarding hospital visitation, medical decision-making and other health issues by completing advanced healthcare directives.