HIPAA and the Medical Records of Deceased Nursing Home Patients

By Leslie Francis

[this is a cross post from HealthLawProf]

Warning: some of this post is HIPAA-wonky. But read on: the punch line is that HIPAA does not protect the living or the dead from blanket release of medical records to their personal representatives—unless state law provides otherwise or patients have thought to specify in advance that they do not want anyone to see the record or parts of it and state law gives them this opportunity. This means that the default position is that personal representatives may see highly sensitive health information, including mental health records or sexual or reproductive histories: veritable skeletons in family medical closets.

In an important recent decision, the 11th Circuit has held that the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) preempts a Florida statute that gave spouses and other enumerated parties the right to request the medical records of deceased nursing home residents. Opis Management Resources v. Secretary, Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 7194 (April 9, 2013). The nursing homes had refused to respond to requests for records made by spouses and attorneys-in-fact, arguing that these requesters were not “personal representatives” under Florida law. The requesters filed complaints with HHS’s Office for Civil Rights, which determined that the refusals were consistent with HIPAA. The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration issued citations against the homes for violating Florida law, and the homes went to court seeking a declaratory judgment that the Florida statute was preempted by HIPAA.

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Introducing New Blogger Leslie Francis

We’re pleased to introduce Leslie P. Francis as a regular contributor to Bill of Health.

Professor Francis holds joint appointments at the University of Utah as Alfred C. Emery distinguished professor of law and distinguished professor of philosophy, and adjunct appointments in Family and Preventive Medicine (in the Division of Public Health), Internal Medicine (in the Division of Medical Ethics), and Political Science. Since 2012, she has also served the College of Law as Associate Dean for Faculty Research and Development. Professor Francis received a B.A. from Wellesley College, where she graduated with high honors in philosophy and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She received a Ph.D. in philosophy (1974) from the University of Michigan. After joining Utah’s philosophy faculty, she received her J.D. from the University of Utah (1981) and served as a law clerk to Judge Abner Mikva on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Appointed to the law faculty in 1982, she teaches and writes extensively in the areas of health law, bioethics, and disability. Professor Francis currently serves as a member of the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics, where she co-chairs the subcommittee on Privacy, Confidentiality, and Security; and as a member of the Executive Committee of the International Association for Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy (IVR). Professor Francis also has been a member of the Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee and of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging.

Representative Publications:

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