Employee Can Waive HIPAA Rights

Gary Hopkins was a correctional officer employed by the Connecticut Department of Correction. On April 24, 2008, he went to a medical clinic as a walk-in patient. After an examination by Dr. Kalipatti Balachandran, Hopkins left the clinic with a copy of his “superbill.” A superbill is an itemized form listing various medical services with code numbers that physicians ordinarily submit to insurance companies for reimbursement. The form lists dozens of conditions and procedures, and the doctor circles or checks the applicable items. The form had certain items circled or checked, but it did not contain any language excusing Hopkins from work until any stated future date, and it was not signed.

Hopkins took time off from work on April 24-27, 2008, as sick time. On April 28, he filed a form with his employer requesting that his absence from work on those dates be reclassified as holiday time, as he had previously exhausted his available sick time. He also supplied his employer with a copy of the superbill from Dr. Balachandran’s office. The copy he submitted, however, was different from the original at the doctor’s office. The copy submitted by Hopkins had additional items circled or changed, and it had handwriting on it purportedly verifying his absence from work due to illness with a return to work date of April 28. It contained an illegible signature, and the return to work date was “4-28.”

Suspecting that the note was fraudulent, a Department investigator called the doctor’s office to determine whether the return to work date had been altered. Dr. Balachandran told the investigator he did not issue Hopkins a doctor’s note, and that the handwriting on the superbill filed with the prison was not his handwriting. He also implied that certain medical information on the form had been changed. Dr. Balachandran sent a copy of the original superbill to the Department, which eventually terminated Hopkins for dishonesty.

Hopkins sued Dr. Balachandran, contending that the release of his medical information violated his privacy rights under HIPAA. The Connecticut Court of Appeals disagreed, finding Hopkins waived his right to confidentiality.

The Court reasoned that it was undisputed that “Hopkins gave a copy of his superbill to his employer, that his employer sought to verify the information on the superbill by contacting the clinic and that Dr. Balachandran provided information that was limited to authenticating the veracity of the superbill, namely, whether he had signed the superbill and issued an out of work note. Once Hopkins submitted a copy of his superbill to his employer, he relinquished the justified expectation that the document would not be publicly disclosed. Indeed, Hopkins could no longer have such an expectation as he was the person who first submitted the document to his employer.

“Although Hopkins argues that the different superbill, additional conversations and letter from the clinic constitute information that went beyond any waiver that Hopkins arguably made, the substance of all of the interactions between the employer and the clinic was aimed at resolving the legitimacy of the superbill. None of the communications were unrelated to the purpose of verifying the superbill. Because Hopkins voluntarily disclosed the document to his employer without restrictions, he should not be able to invoke a privilege for a confidentiality that he compromised for his own benefit.”

Hopkins v. Balachandran, 146 Conn. App. 44 (2013).