In 1996 an act called the health insurance portability and accountability act was passed by congress.
This act requires all health care transactions to be uniquely identified and helps protect the insurance coverage of those who lose their job or change jobs. The act allows children from the ages of 12 to have privacy as well, even from their own parents. The provider they speak with is limited in regards to the information they can share with the child’s caregiver without the child’s permission. This portion of the act was met with some degree of concern, but ultimately it was decided that it was in the best interest of the children to have some privacy concerning information they should discuss with a doctor, without fear of repercussions at home. This was also the start of transferring healthcare information and history files to electronic data sources instead of traditional paper files kept in medical offices.
One very important aspect of the health insurance portability and accountability act deals with the issue of pre-existing illnesses. Before this act, if someone had a pre-existing illness an insurance company could refuse to cover them. However, the health insurance portability and accountability act contains a portion that states if someone has a medical condition and needs to be covered on a new health insurance plan, the health insurance company cannot refuse to cover them if they have had coverage within a reasonable time frame – typically that means coverage within 63 days of the start of the new insurance plan. If it has been longer than that, the company may be able to refuse to cover a pre-existing illness.
For this reason it is still a good idea to prevent a lapse in insurance coverage if at all possible. For many people the idea of a pre-existing illness not being covered means nothing, but to those who must live with chronic conditions, it can mean the difference between getting the care they need to get better and live comfortable and living in pain every day and potentially getting worse because they are unable to get the care they need due to lack of insurance coverage and inability to pay out of pocket for their medical expenses.
In the past, the only way of storing medical information was by keeping paper files at a doctor’s office.
Unfortunately, this left important patient files at risk to damage from things like fires, floods, and theft. Even under lock and key there was always the possibility that information could fall into the wrong hands without much difficulty. If a group of teenagers broke into the office, for instance, they could have the private information of the entire town in their hands.
The health insurance portability and accountability act set the stage for medical information to be transferred to electronic databases that could easily and quickly be backed up.
If for some reason a database became damaged, the information would still be available if and when needed. This act also stated that there would be penalties given to the providers that did not take every precaution possible to protect the private information of their patients. If computer monitors are viewable to the public or unauthorized personnel can access information with relative ease, action will be taken. The information kept electronically can only be given out with a patient’s consent. Relative information concerning billing and treatment needed may be given out when needed, but standards do apply to the release of this information. The act protects the private information of individuals’ medical needs.