DEAR JEFF: Can you explain what information is protected by the HIPAA laws? Thanks, “Hurray for HIPAA!”

Dear “Hurray”: HIPAA is a federal law that was enacted to protect sensitive health and medical information form being disclosed. Since most people believe this information is private and should be protected, the federal government set rules and limits on exactly who is allowed to receive your health information.

The law applies to most doctors, nurses, pharmacies, hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, health insurance companies, HMOs; and certain government health care programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid.

The range of information that is protected is broad; and includes any information that is put in your medical record, any conversation between your doctor and nurses about your care, information about you in your insurer’s computer system, billing information about you and most other health information that has anything to do with you or your treatment.

DEAR JEFF: What is required for me to establish a legal guardianship over an adult relative? Thanks, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”

Dear “My Brother”: The first step in establishing guardianship over an adult is obtaining a medical report from a physician who has diagnosed, and presumably treated, the adult (called a “ward”) and is familiar with the capabilities of the person.

The physician must sign an affidavit that is detailed as to what the ward’s abilities are in caring for himself or herself. Once the medical information is obtained, a guardianship proceeding is filed in the County Court at Law.

Certain family members are entitled to notice of the guardianship proceeding, including any adult siblings. An attorney ad litem will be appointed to represent the interests of the ward, and will make a recommendation to the court as to whether the guardianship is in the ward’s best interests.

If the court agrees that guardianship is proper, the guardian typically files a bond, and the order is signed. The guardian is required to make annual accountings to the court regarding expenditures made for or on behalf of the Ward.

Jeffrey Bates is licensed to practice law in the State of Texas, but is not board certified in any area of specialty by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

This column is meant for general information and educational purposes only, and neither this column nor the transmittal of a legal question via email constitutes the creation of an attorney/client relationship between the reader and Jeffrey Bates and/or Southern Newspapers Inc. For specific advice regarding legal matters affecting you, consult an attorney.

To submit a question, send it via email to, or via regular mail to Ask the Lawyer, 101 S. First St., Lufkin 75901, or call 639-2900.