The insurance company is requesting I sign a medical authorization. Should I sign it?
You should only provide an insurance company with authorization to obtain your medical records if the authorization is restricted to medical records of injuries you suffered in the accident or to records of related medical conditions. The authorizations that most insurance companies will want you to sign are blanket authorizations that allow the company to obtain any and all of your medical records, even records that are completely unrelated to the injuries you suffered in the accident. While the insurance company is certainly entitled to your accident-related medical records and will not be willing to settle a claim until it has those records, very often it will want to look beyond those records for evidence of “pre-existing conditions.” Pre-existing conditions are medical problems what you had before the accident that may in some way contribute to or exacerbate your present accident-related medical problems. For example, the insurance company will want to see whether someone complaining of neck pain had prior arthritic problems in his neck for which he received medical treatment and/or medications. Similarly, the insurance company would use a broad medical records authorization to obtain medical records going back many years to see if an accident victim complaining of headaches had a prior problem with headaches that he discussed with his doctor or for which he received medical treatment before the accident in question. While a limited inquiry into your past medical history is permissible by law if you bring a claim for injuries from an accident, an overly broad “fishing expedition” into your past medical history is not permitted.
Our concern with providing blanket medical authorizations is that the insurance company will use the authorization to find out information about completely unrelated medical issues for no other reason than to try to complicate and/or undermine your case.
The risk you take giving an insurance company blanket (i.e., unrestricted) authorization to obtain your medical records is illustrated by one of our recent cases. The client contacted us after having tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a settlement of her case with the insurance company for the driver who caused the accident. Shortly after the accident she provided the insurance company with a standard medical authorization, not thinking the insurance company would use the authorization to obtain records other than those related specifically to the accident. When we became involved in the case, we immediately revoked the authorization and requested copies of all of the records that the insurance company had obtained up to that point in time. Our client was very distressed to see that the insurance company had requested and obtained records for medical conditions completely unrelated to the injuries she suffered in the accident.
The records that the insurance company obtained ending up harming our client's case because they revealed information that the insurance company would not otherwise have been permitted to obtain that seriously complicated an already complex medical picture. As a general rule, the more complicated an insurance company can make a case, the less it will be willing to pay on a claim. While we were able to overcome most of the problems that those records created, we still felt that the outcome would have been better had the records never been disclosed in the first place. Having to sort out the problems caused by the unnecessary disclosure of the unrelated medical records also delayed getting our client's case resolved.