If you’ve ever been in a car accident, you’ve probably received a bunch of letters from insurance companies. They ask who your doctors are, what treatment you’ve received, whether you’re willing to give them a recorded statement, and all sorts of other things. One form that is usually included in the flood of letters is a medical release. I’ve had a number of people come to me asking whether they should sign it. The short answer is probably not.
What is a Medical Release?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and state laws regarding medical privilege protect your medical information from unauthorized disclosure. A medical release is a document that gives your medical providers permission to disclose your medical information to other people. In the case of an insurance release, it gives your medical providers permission to give your information to an insurance company.
Why Does the Insurance Company Want me to Sign the Release?
There are two reasons an insurance company might want your medical information. One is legitimate, one is not.
First, an insurance company is entitled to information about injuries that you are claiming compensation for. They need information about the amount you were billed for medical care, what care was received, and the dates of that care to make sure it was related to the incident that caused your injuries. This is legitimate and necessary for the insurance company to do their job.
The second reason an insurance company is more nefarious. Their releases allow them to collect all of your medical records: not just ones related to your injuries, not just ones from the time period around your injuries, all of them. The insurance companies ask for this because they want to find something, anything in your medical history that they can use to deny your claim. Maybe you had a bad back 10 years ago, and now you have neck pain following a car crash, the insurance company may try to deny your legitimate claim based on “pre-existing spinal injuries.”
Do I have to Sign the Release?
No is the short answer. The Colorado Supreme Court decided this in a case called Alcon v. Spicer. In that case, a trial court judge ordered a plaintiff in a personal injury case to release her entire medical history for the past 10 years. The plaintiff objected to this and appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court to protect her privacy. The Supreme Court agreed with the plaintiff and held that she did not have to sign the release. Instead, the court found that the plaintiff only had to allow the defendants access to her medical history that was related to the injuries she was claiming compensation for.
Insurance companies simply disregard this case. They still send unrestricted releases to victims of personal injuries, hoping they will voluntarily give the insurance company access to their entire medical history. Of course, if you’re in litigation, your personal injury attorney will have to take the time to produce a log of all records that have been withheld because they are unrelated.
When Should I Sign the Release?
Although you usually shouldn’t sign releases, sometimes it might be OK. One example I can think of is when you have never had any medical treatment except for the treatment related to your injuries. If that’s the case, go ahead and sign it. Second is if you are able to limit the scope of the release to records relevant to the injuries you are claiming compensation for. Third, if your attorney recommends that you do it. Some attorneys would rather just have you sign a release than take the time to redact records and produce a log of all withheld documents. As always, if your attorney is telling you to do something, it is best to follow his or her advice.
If you have any questions about a medical release you have received from an insurance company, and you’re in Colorado, Wyoming, or Montana, call an experienced insurance attorney.