You have rights as a health care consumer that are protected by both federal and state laws. Knowing them can help empower you to get better and safer care. You often have even more rights under “Patients’ Bill of Rights” that are used by many hospitals, clinics and health systems.
Say Ah! has compiled a list of rights to help you be an informed patient or caregiver. Please note, laws can vary by state and can change. This list is not meant to take the place of legal advice. If you feel your rights have been violated, please talk with an attorney.
Here is a list of some of the rights patients have and basic info about them. 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 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 agree to it, and what other options may be 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).