The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, [usually referred to as “HIPPA] places certain restrictions upon and guidelines for the release of medical information. Your medical records are absolutely confidential between you and your medical provider. Under the privilege that exists on medical records, in most circumstances only you, the patient may authorize release of your medical records. However, there are circumstances under which others need your medical records. Where the release of medical records is required as a condition of receiving a benefit, you have the choice of allowing the release of the information, or, denying the release of the information, but at the risk of not getting the benefit.
That is the position that one faces, for example when in a car accident and applying to one’s own insurance company for payment of the medical bills under a “PIP” or ‘medpay’ or other such provision. Generally, one has a duty to cooperate with one’s own insurance company, and specifically, the PIP and medpay application process requires signing of medical authorization release papers.
Many government benefits also require that the release of medical records be authorized by the applicant. One example is social security disability, where medical records must be released in order that the facts and background of a claimed disability be reviewed.
Bottom line: HIPPA and common law medical confidentiality do in fact protect against release of medical records. However, the patient holds the key to release and the patient will find him or herself in positions where they will need to strongly consider signing authorizations for the release of medical records.