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Are Counselors Bound by HIPAA?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, is related to the privacy of patients when it comes to their medical records and health information. It controls how the information can be shared with others. Without HIPAA, patients are more wary of sharing information with their health care providers, which influences the care they receive. Every patient is asked to sign a HIPAA form when seen by a doctor to ensure they understand that their information will only be shared with relevant parties. Relevant parties could include family members and law enforcement depending on the type of problem.

Therapy Discussions

When it comes to counselors and psychologists, there’s a code of ethics that influences whether they can reveal private information during a session. Patients also have the added protection provided by HIPAA. During the first visit to a new counselor, the person will be provided with papers that explain that your sessions are private except in certain circumstances. The HIPAA guidelines are actually the minimum level provided. In many states, there are stricter guidelines in place for those in the mental health fields. Patients have to feel safe during their sessions, or they won’t share details with their counselor.

Information Shared

There are certain situations where the mental health professional can share information with third parties without the patient’s express consent. Issues surrounding mental health issues means that there can be delicate, serious situations to the proper authorities. For example, a client who discloses an attempt at suicide in the future or plan to cause serious harm to another person would need to be reported. Domestic abuse as well as child abuse and neglect have to be reported too. When ordered by the court, counselors have to release information.

Insurance Company Records

When your insurance company is paying for your treatment, the counselor is required to share basic information about the treatment, which includes a diagnosis. The treatment might include medication as well as ongoing sessions that will be billed to the insurance company. Your health insurance provider is bound by HIPAA though. If you decide that you don’t want your counselor to share information with your insurance company, you can pay for any expenses out of your own pocket.

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Employer Disclosure

You might be questioning whether your employer needs to learn about what you discuss during a session when using a company’s insurance. There’s no reason for the counselor or health insurance provider to give information about the services you receive to your employer. The insurance provider has items and services they’ll cover, and if it’s covered, there’s no reason to contact the employer. You can get specific details from your company’s HR department without giving them specific details about your inquiries.

Young Adults

Those who are under 18 years old usually need to have a guardian or parent at the initial visit to discuss the client’s needs. After that, the counselor can talk to the client about what they would disclose to the client’s parent. Counselors want to offer a safe place for children and teenagers to talk about issues. If the young adult is on their parent’s insurance, the parent might be given a statement detailing the fact that services were provided, but the details about sessions are not given.

To Summarize…

Counselors, like all mental health professionals, are bound by HIPAA to ensure that clients can talk freely. This allows for counselors to properly do their jobs and bond with their clients. In extreme circumstances, counselors can share concerns with family members, but they won’t share private details with others. So if you’re ready to spill to your counselor, don’t worry. They have your back! If you are studying to become a counselor, you better be good at secrets!

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