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How HIPAA Can Help You

by Alicia Isero

Do you feel like you fill out a new form every time you visit the doctor's office? What are all these forms for and what does it do for you? The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), established in 1996, requires that insurance plans, medical providers, health administrators, and doctors keep your medical records confidential. HIPAA provides mandatory regulations as to how medical records are distributed and accessed.

Technology is not always secure. HIPAA was developed to ensure the security and confidentiality of the electronic storage and transfer of files and records. Many organizations want the information in your records: insurance companies, employers, disability agents, and personal injury representatives (to name a few). HIPAA gives you control over who knows what about you. You must grant authorization to another party in order for your records to be disclosed. And because of HIPAA, you have access to your own information and records.

So why is your privacy so important? Here are four reasons why your records should be under lock and key:

  • Loss of job. Imagine if an employer had access to your medical history and found out that alcoholism runs in your family. Another candidate might get your job because your boss didn't want to risk the possibility of your unreliability.
  • Discrimination. If two applicants who were equally qualified interviewed for the same job, but the employer discovered that one candidate was being treated for a chronic condition, more than likely the boss would choose the other "healthier" candidate. The employer could assume that the candidate with a chronic illness might be regularly absent for medical treatment of illness.
  • ID theft. Sadly, ID theft is on the rise. Medical records contain all sorts of personal information, including name, address, and social security numbers. Because of HIPAA, these sensitive materials are now handled carefully and not disclosed easily.
  • Embarrassment. It sounds silly, but what if information about your past treatment for mental illness was revealed? This could potentially be very embarrassing to you. Additionally, it could be damaging. If you were going through a divorce, your spouse could use this part of your medical records against you in a custody hearing.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was established to prevent such misuses. HIPAA helps to make the healthcare system more efficient by creating standards for disseminating medical and health information. The policy also limits group plan restrictions for preexisting conditions. Administrators, technicians, and physicians now have rules for handling your sensitive information. When applying for a job or to a school, you cannot be assessed based on health status, medical history, genetic information, or a disability.

So the next time you are filling out all that paperwork in your doctor's office and are mumbling to yourself about how many times you have gone through the documentation, give thanks for the careful protection of your sensitive personal information.

Council for Affordable Health Insurance
Insurance Information Institute

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