Medical laws change, but it is important to stay current if caregiving is a responsibility you’ve undertaken for a family member or if it is your profession. There are documents you will need to provide physicians with, as well as decisions to make regarding treatments and facilities.
Here are three of the big ones:
HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, came into being in 1996 to help patients gain control over their private information. Only the minimum amount of patient information is available to entities, including caregivers, insurance companies and other health care facilities, unless otherwise directed by the patient.
HIPAA protects patients and holds people accountable for violating the law and patients’ privacy. A violator could spend time behind bars and/or pay a steep fine. However, if a patient requests that their adult child or caregiver accompanies them to a physician appointment or tests, then the provider can release the information. It is clear the patient wants this person to know about their private health information.
The physician has the right to choose who to give pertinent information to if something happens to the patient and they are unable to respond, such as permanent unconsciousness. Even with HIPAA laws in effect, you may want to talk with your patient about a written directive to avoid any miscommunication.
2. The Stark Law
If your patient or loved one is living in a skilled nursing home or assisted living facility, understanding The Stark Law is critical. To avoid conflict of interest and financial kickbacks, The Stark Law puts into effect the protection of Medicare and Medicaid patients. The law states physicians cannot refer patients to a clinic, laboratory or facility and order services in which the provider will receive financial gain in return. This includes a member of a provider’s family.
For example, a physician may be violating The Stark Law if they refer a Medicaid/Medicare patient to a nursing home owned by the physician’s adult child. You want to ensure your patient is receiving the best care and not receiving unnecessary treatment. The Stark Law works to protect patients from unethical practices by enforcing civil fines and penalties and excluding violators from federal health care programs.
If you suspect a physician or facility is violating The Stark Law, you can report the incident to the Office of Inspector General.
3. Legal Documentation Laws
As a caregiver, legal documents are an important part of your responsibility. Your role as a caregiver can be severely limited without proper legal documentation. The following are a few documents you should have on hand and provide copies to your patient’s service providers.
- Power of Attorney: As power of attorney, you can make medical and financial decisions for your loved one as needed. This document allows you to pay bills on behalf of your patient and make decisions regarding treatments when they no longer can make these decisions on their own.
- Living Will: Experts suggest creating a living will before the need arises. This document provides a written record of the patient’s wishes regarding life support and treatments and removes the emotional factor during a crisis.
- Health Care Proxy: If the patient prefers, they can assign a power of attorney to handle their financial responsibilities and a health care proxy to make medical decisions for them regarding treatments. A health care proxy is only used when the patient is permanently unconscious or is in the latter stages of a mental illness.
An elder-law attorney can explain the details of each of the medical laws concerning seniors and caregivers, as well as oversee the legal documentation you need. Before making decisions on behalf of your patient or loved one, make sure you are up-to-date with any changes to the laws.
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