Visiting the sick hasn't been easy for pastors—a Singapore Assembly of God minister recently died of SARS contracted during a visitation—but it just grew harder with the strict privacy guidelines in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Under the 1996 law, effective in April, medical workers are prohibited from contacting churches about hospitalized members, and patients must now give permission for clergy visitors. Fortunately, while most visitors must be approved by name, patients can approve all pastors of a given church or denomination. And while some pastors have feared that HIPAA bans church bulletin "prayer lists," Church Law & Tax Report editor Richard Hammar says it's not true—but adds that churches should always obtain permission before passing on medical information.

Related Elsewhere

Other coverage of HIPAA includes:

Is patient privacy law fair to family, friends and clergy?The Shelby Star (June 7, 2003)
Ministering to sick tougher under new privacy rulesThe Commercial Appeal (June 6, 2003)
New regulations make hospital visits more difficult for clergy—WBIR, Knoxville, Tennessee (May 28, 2003)
Clergy and the patient privacy actThe Northwest Indiana Times (May 16, 2003)
So far, HIPAA not a heap of troubleNews & Observer (May 13, 2003)

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