In 1996, the United States Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, also known as “HIPAA.” The purpose of this act was to improve the way health care information was managed and distributed, and also provide additional protections for consumers.
This act was passed in the midst of the “digital revolution” that saw major data management changes occurring in almost every industry—healthcare was no exception. Despite some initial opposition in the House, the bill eventually cleared the Senate with a 100-0 vote (a rare accomplishment for anything related to healthcare). Now, more than 20 years since President Clinton signed this bill into law, businesses in healthcare and other related industries are still trying to determine which regulations, if any, actively apply to them.
HIPAA Passed a New Set of Digital Regulations for Businesses
The Act itself is incredibly long and, in order to make things a bit easier for businesses to digest, is broken into five distinct sections. The second section is titled, “Preventing Health Care Fraud and Abuse; Administration Simplification; Medical Liability Reform.” When compared to the other sections featured in the bill, this section is particularly concerned with information management regulations. As we continue to move forward into the digital era, many of these regulations have become even more relevant than they were when the bill was initially passed.
Navigating the government’s web of regulations—and corresponding programs—can often be very confusing. In this article, we will discuss the current consequences of passing HIPAA and how this bill has impacted many businesses’ patient statement printing and mailing needs. We will also discuss a few things your business can do to improve its statement management practices in ways that are both compliant with HIPAA and good for your bottom line.
What are the most important components of HIPAA, Title II?
Two of the most “personal” categories of information related to any given person will be their financial information and information regarding their health. Naturally, in the healthcare industry—where finance and health uniquely intersect—the need for protecting information has always been present. The healthcare industry has been notoriously subject to fraud, stolen information, misuse of information, and even outright scams (particularly scams targeting senior citizens).
In order to minimize these active risks, the Federal Government passed HIPAA and attempted to create a universal set of healthcare information management standards. HIPAA established a specific category of information, known as “protected health information” (PHI), to which all related regulations would apply. Following the act, it was no longer just the “right thing to do” to protect consumer’s information, but (due to the introduction of various fees) it also became the financial justifiable thing to do as well.
When it comes to statement distribution and information management, Title II of HIPAA is overwhelmingly the most relevant part of the bill. Some of the key rules found in this section include:
- Privacy Rules: throughout this section of the bill, the information that can (and cannot) be distributed by healthcare providers is clearly defined. In practice, PHI has had a rather broad interpretation—most personal health and financial information is considered to be private information (with some exceptions). Not only does intentionally distributing this information result in a fine, but even accidentally allowing this information to get into the wrong hands can also result in a fine.
- Right to Access to PHI: the bill also goes on to state that not only must PHI remain (relatively) private, but all citizens also have the right to view their own PHI. This consequently helps make it easier for individuals to change providers and test the open market.
- Security Rules: in addition to encouraging security by introducing fines, the security portion of Title II also establishes some basic security standards. Both electronic and paper forms of communication are discussed in this portion, meaning that almost all financial or health information will be affected in some way.
Following the introduction of these regulations, many companies in the healthcare industry had to move quickly in order to protect themselves from future litigation. Since the rules first began being enforced in 2003, more than 20,000 cases have resulted in either the use or threat of fines (some companies were allowed to make changes before being fined).
Why is it important for businesses to have secure patient statement printing practices?
Currently, the Department of Health and Human Services—who is in charge of implementing HIPAA—has identified five categories of rule violations that are frequently violated. These five categories (sorted by most frequent to least frequent) are:
- Misuse and disclosure of PHI.
- No protection in place of health information.
- Patient unable to access their health information.
- Using or disclosing more than the minimum necessary protected health information.
- No safeguards of electronically protected health information.
The enforcement of these regulations is by no means an empty threat, nor is it a threat that is solely being leveraged against Fortune 500 healthcare companies. In fact, in 2012, a small organization known as the Hospice of North Idaho was fined $50,000 for its lack of information safeguards and its improper risk analysis practices. In this instance, the health information of 441 was stolen electronically. Since then, many other small businesses have also been prosecuted—some of these companies even ended up going out of business as a result.
Not only is following HIPAA regulations a generally moral thing to do and not only are these regulations codified in law but—for better or for worse—following these regulations will benefit seemingly every healthcare business’ bottom line. The cost of losing patient information will far outweigh the benefits (if any) of keeping this information at risk.
How can my business maintain HIPAA compliance?
Now that you understand the impact and importance of HIPAA regulations, you are probably wondering what implications these regulations may have for your business. If your business is heavily involved in the healthcare industry, it will be well worth making an investment in assuring HIPAA compliance in all communications.
In order to protect your business from the risks of failed HIPAA compliance, your business should hire a patient printing and mailing company that has an emphasis on HIPAA compliance. These companies are familiar with all of the protocols, reporting requirements, and information delivery requirements that HIPAA demands.
By hiring a statement printing and mailing partner that is HIPAA compliant, your business can protect itself from lawsuits and penalties, and also improve its communication network as a whole. Paying a firm $10,000 per year to manage these tasks will be worth it, considering the hundreds of thousands—even millions—of dollars that could be potentially be charged against your company. Though you will obviously need to do plenty of research before making any firm outsourcing commitments, there is no doubt that is reasonable solutions well within reach.
The passage of HIPAA in 1996 changed the healthcare industry, the personal finance industry, and many of the corresponding industries connected to each of them. One of the main components of HIPAA has been the Title II rules, mostly describing how personal healthcare information needs to be handled and distributed. Because the consequences of breaking HIPAA’s regulations can cause your business to go under, it may be worth looking into getting some professional outside help to make sure your patient statement and printing processes follow HIPAA regulations.
For more information about HIPAA compliant statement printing services, contact the experts at SmartPayables at (720) 287-0030 or leave a message here.