You have rights as a health care consumer that are protected by law. Knowing them can help empower you to get the care you need.
Say Ah! has compiled a list of rights and basic info about them to help you be an informed patient and caregiver. These laws vary by state, so be sure to consult with your local Department of Health. This list is not meant to take the place of legal advice. If you feel your rights have been violated, please consult an attorney. Click on the link to each section, or scroll down to learn more.
Privacy. You have a right to privacy over your own health records, and can limit who looks at them or receives them. These rights are protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, created in 1996, commonly know as “HIPAA.”
It’s important you know about and exercise this right so you feel comfortable giving your care provider accurate and complete information. Your doctor needs you to be honest and open about your health to make a correct diagnosis.
Access to Your Medical Records. You have a right to receive information prior to agreeing to a medical procedure. see your medical records, and to request copies in a timely manner. This law can vary by state so be sure to check the laws with your Department of Health.
Informed Consent. You have a right to be informed about your medical condition and possible treatments before consenting to care. These laws vary from state to state, some require only “reasonable” information and others “complete” information. Check with your state’s Department of Health to see what is required where you live. No matter what, you should always know the risks and benefits of any treatment option before you and what other options are available to you.
Emergency Care. Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA) is a Federal law that says that you can receive emergency care even if you can’t pay for it at hospitals or health systems that receive federal money, which is any public hospital and many private hospitals.
Care That’s Fair. Federal law protects patients from being discriminated against for their gender, race or national origin. In addition, beginning in 2014 under the new health care reform law insurers may not deny you coverage if you are already sick or have a health issue.
An Interpreter. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), “hospitals must provide effective means of communication for patients, family members, and hospital visitors who are deaf or hard of hearing” such as a sign language interpreter. If you do not speak or read English, you may also have a right to having an interpreter at a hospital.
The Rights of Minors. There are laws that protect the rights of minors (anyone under the age of 18) but, again, these vary by state and also health issue. In New York State, for instance, a minor who can make a decision about his or her own care has a right to access reproductive health care, emergency contraception, abortion, pregnancy/prenatal care, care during labor and delivery; care for STDs; mental health services; certain alcohol and drug abuse services; sexual assault treatment.
You can learn about the specific minor’s or teenager’s health rights in your state by contacting the ACLU http://www.aclu.org/contact-us. Or search online by putting in the name of your state followed by “ACLU” [Example: Arkansas ACLU].
The Privacy Rule “gives you rights over your health information and sets rules and limits on who can look at and receive your health information” [http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/consumers/index.html],and access to your medical records [http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/consumers/medicalrecords.html]. The Security Rule protects electronic health information [http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/administrative/securityrule/index.html].Understanding Health Information Privacy: [http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/]
Civil Rights Special Topics (including Health Disparities, HIV/AIDS, Effective Communication in Hospitals, et al.: http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/resources/specialtopics/index.html
Know Your Rights Video from U.S. Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKTHncn-5Vs
Rights Overview from U.S. Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights [PDF]: http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/