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Understanding HIPAA

HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, is a piece of legislation signed into law in 1996. It is designed to do two things: protect the health insurance of workers who change jobs or become unemployed, and require national standards for electronic health care records. By holding insurance companies as well as medical providers accountable, HIPAA brings peace of mind and security to patients throughout the United States.

Title I of HIPAA protects the heath care coverage of employees and their families when jobs are lost or changed. It also affects preexisting conditions, so that people who already have a diagnosed medical condition can get coverage at a reasonable rate. Generally, that person must wait 12 months from the time coverage begins before any medical care related to the preexisting condition will be covered. During that time, other medical care will still be covered under the patient's insurance plan.

Title II of HIPAA relates to the privacy and accessibility of medical records. Simplifying how records are kept and preventing fraud and abuse in the health care system are highly important ways of keeping costs down and patients protected. There are both criminal and civil penalties under this part of the Act. By making sure that health care information is used and accessed appropriately, patients will have fewer worries about their health care.

The privacy and security of collected health care information is a significant part of the bill. Having standards means that medical care can be made more effective, as well as more efficient, for a larger number of individuals. Being able to access electronic data can also take less time, which means that people who need urgent care can get that care without dangerous delays.

By accessing medical records electronically, doctors and other health care providers can also ensure they know a patient's medical history and that they are aware of any potential allergies or medication interactions they will need to watch out for when treating that patient. While this does not guarantee a good outcome for the patient, it does allow the doctors and other medical professionals to have the highest level of information possible, resulting in the opportunity for a better outcome.

One of the main concerns about HIPAA is privacy. Many people express concern that their medical records may be "hacked" or accessed by people who have no business looking at them. Despite the worry, HIPAA has privacy protections in place to avoid hackers. Records are also protected in the sense that they cannot be accessed by just anyone in the medical field. There has to be a reason for the medical professional to request the records, and the records are not simply on the Internet for people to find or access.

While HIPAA is not a guarantee of better patient care or a higher level of protection for health care records, the Act is a step in the right direction. It will allow patients to have more security, and it will also allow doctors and other medical professionals to get information more quickly. Of course, there are also more requirements for medical practices and their employees when it comes to HIPAA, so it is important that they understand their obligations. If they do not comply with the HIPAA requirements, they may be subject to hefty penalties, while their patients may suffer damaging consequences.

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