Being a patient can feel powerless, but whether you’re going for your yearly gynecological exam or your third in vitro fertilization cycle, you’ve got rights. Understanding what those legal rights are can help you feel more in control.
Deciding to have a baby is an exciting time. It’s also a time when a woman—and her husband—may make more appointments for medical care than ever before. Whether you’re visiting a clinic, private doctor’s office, or hospital—or seeing an ob/gyn, reproductive endocrinologist, or genetic counselor—chances are you’ll need to sign a slew of papers related to medical and legal issues. Familiarizing yourself with some important concepts can help ease the way.
HIPAA: The Form That’s Everywhere
When you go to a new doctor, one of the first forms you’ll be handed is a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) privacy form. HIPAA is a federal law that governs how medical information is maintained, kept private, and shared.
Melissa Mace, a fertility patient in upstate New York, feels it’s impractical to expect people to read the details. “Who really takes the time to read through two pages of technical info when you’re nervous before an appointment?” she wonders. That’s why it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with your privacy rights in advance.
Because HIPAA prohibits the release of medical information without consent, if you want your spouse to have access to your records (even to be able to call in for a test result or ask a question on your behalf), you should tell the physician’s office you would like to authorize him or her. Steven Snyder, a reproductive rights attorney in Maple Grove, Minnesota, points out that in most cases, clinics treat a couple as “co-patients,” because both partners’ cooperation is needed throughout procedures. In fact, many forms need to be signed by both partners to be valid.
If you go to a reproductive endocrinologist or a fertility clinic, you will most likely be asked to sign a contract. Because many fertility procedures, including IVF (in vitro fertilization), are often not covered by insurance, you’ll be entering into a medical, legal, and financial agreement with your doctor. The first crucial step is to take the contract home and read it carefully before signing it. “If the paperwork is too difficult to understand, an attorney should review it,” recommends Snyder.
If an egg or sperm donor is involved, Snyder, along with other experts, always recommends that an attorney be consulted to make sure that the donors’ parental rights are completely terminated. If you don’t consult a lawyer, protect yourself by making sure any contract clearly spells out who has parentage and who doesn’t and to what degree. If you’ll be using a surrogate, getting an attorney involved is absolutely essential since laws and procedures vary from state to state.