Know Your Employer: HIPAA in Case of Emergencies

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A word of caution or warning for all my friends and readers -- call your and your spouse's insurance company and employer's Human Resources department to see what is required for you to access your spouse's information (and vice versa) in the event they are incapacitated or there is a health care emergency. I know this is due to HIPAA laws but it's serious overkill, people.


"Sick husband" via Shutterstock.

I've been working blind with my husband's human resources and benefits department because they will not speak to me without verbal authorization from him AND it is only good for 48 hours. Plus they do not make 100 percent of the benefit info available online except through the company's website on an official company workstation computer, which I am not allowed to touch or access. (Some day ask me what happened when I did).

I am the kind of person that needs to see the information for myself, print it out so I have a hard copy handy if needed. Not take a person's word over the phone.

I was eventually told "if we had a certified Durable Power of Attorney (POA) on file they wouldn't have to do the whole verbal authorization thing." This is the first time in 16 years at Hubby's company I have ever heard of such a thing. How were we to know this was needed? So I sent a certified copy (they wanted the original) of the POA via Priority Mail. A fax copy is not acceptable. No other form or paperwork is acceptable.

My employer is in the 21st century and provides access to 100 percent of benefit information online. Everything is accessible via a secure website, with login and password. I mean everything: 401k information, insurance, company provided benefits, EAP, human resources stuff, forms, and lots more. I called my human resources department and benefits and asked what would happen if I was incapacitated, unable to talk or communicate and my husband needed access to my information. Would they also require a durable POA prior to assisting him?

Thankfully I was advised no, as long as he could provide basic verification information that matches what is on file identifying him as my spouse, they would be able to provide information to him over the phone. I was also told that Hubby could access 100 percent of my information online via the benefits website as long as he knew my login and password. I can and did fax a copy of his POA to Benefits as a backup just in case.

I understand the purpose of HIPAA laws. I do. Really I do. I don't necessarily agree 100 percent with the laws but I know why they are in place. However, my husband's company policies are way beyond what the law requires. What if Hubby had been in a coma? Or intubated for any length of time and unable to talk?

If it hadn't been for a dear coworker friend of Hubby's I would not have even known about the company provided salary continuation. Hubby's employer has been less than helpful to say the least. That is another post for another day. Heed my cautionary tale: we are still operating somewhat blind as Hubby has been locked out of his work computer. We're still having to take the word of the phone agent on things (which still annoys me to no end).

Elizabeth is on Twitter as @texasebeth and blogs on My Life, such as it is....

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