HIPAA is an acronym for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This Act was introduced in 1996, but not fully implemented until 2003. HIPAA was created to ensure that people between jobs would still have access to quality health care coverage, since in the past it was difficult or impossible to change insurance carriers without facing lowered coverage or exorbitant premiums. HIPAA was also intended to protect private health care information and create a uniform standard for dispersing personal information.
Before HIPAA, if a person lost his job and therefore his insurance coverage, the next insurance company he used could classify his health needs as "pre-existing conditions." Doing so allowed the insurance provider to pay little or nothing for services needed to remedy such conditions, despite the fact that the client was paying for the insurance. For example, if a person was regularly taking prescription medicine for high blood pressure, the new insurance provider could refuse to pay for his medication under the pre-existing condition policy, but the premium would remain the same, often for at least one year.
By disallowing pre-existing condition policies, requiring new companies to renew insurance policies, and barring carriers from charging higher premiums based on health information, HIPAA plans to make insurance coverage "portable" between companies. This measure is intended to keep people who change jobs from being forced to forgo health insurance due to difficulty in securing coverage or due to insurmountable expense.
In regard to HIPAA, accountability refers to the standards by which private health care information is exchanged between insurance companies, health care providers, pharmacies, employers and patients. In the age of technology, electronic transfer of information makes it very easy to violate a patient's privacy, even inadvertently.
HIPAA gives the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) the authority to create uniform controls for the management and transfer of sensitive information, including the ability to determine which codes must be used to identify medical and administrative expenses. HIPAA also gives HHS the ability to create a national ID system for clients, health care providers and insurance carriers. Finally, HIPAA gives HHS the power to implement procedures necessary to secure personal information and protect the privacy of health care information.
If you've visited the doctor or a pharmacy, you've probably received the HIPAA pamphlet and been asked to sign a form stating that you received this information. Such forms may provide space for you to indicate who may and may not review your personal health care information. While many people simply sign the form, it's a good idea to read the information carefully first. You might be surprised by how and with whom your private health care information is shared.