Understanding the HIPAA Law

HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This article is to help health insurance consumers understand the HIPAA law.

Here is a short definition of the HIPAA law: The purpose of the HIPAA law is to protect the privacy of peoples’ medical records.

Before the many advancements in modern record-keeping, it was much easier to keep medical records private. The doctor-patient relationship requires complete medical privacy, so that patients feel comfortable being honest and forthright. Starting in the 1970’s, copy machines became present in most all medical offices. This was a huge benefit for office staff to be able to easily create copies of all paperwork and charts. Unfortunately, it also meant that sensitive medical information became less secure.

Things became much worse with the advent of computers in the medical office.  While they helped reduce the cost of working with hand-written records, they made medical information very susceptible to unauthorized prying eyes. As a result, patients began to lose confidence in the privacy of their discussions with their doctor, and the medical profession knew that this would gravely affect the health of patients if something was not done.

It was not until 1996 that the HIPAA law was passed. HIPAA created very specific instructions as to how medical records must be secured, and established legal liability for those who failed to protect patient records.

Rules were established to protect patients’ medical records at any venue where they are vulnerable, which includes the transfer of information for health insurance purposes. Medical offices have to adhere to the strict standards and privacy procedures. To this end, medical offices are carefully monitored and tested on a regular basis, when it comes to protecting the privacy of patients’ medical records.

HIPAA covers:

  • Privacy: controlling access to records, listing when and how records can be accessed.
  • Security: setting standards depending on the computer technology used to store and transmit records.
  • Simplification: limits the complexity of classification within the information system to keep the system manageable.

As “health insurance as we know it” changes, WNC Health Insurance’s knowledgeable agents are committed to helping North Carolinians find the best health insurance solutions for their families and businesses.