HIPAA and Your Right to Privacy
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was established in 1996. It mandates regulations and guidelines for ensuring our medical records are protected and kept confidential. This includes determining how these records will be distributed and accessed.
A few years ago, there was a story in the New York City papers about a medical office that disposed of old files by simply tossing them out onto the street. Under the guidelines of HIPAA, this is the worst kind of action, regardless of the information’s age. An individual has a right to privacy, and medical entities that abuse personal information will have to be held accountable.
Any affiliated health practitioner or organization that you have supplied information to, be it employees, insurance companies or their agents, or medical representatives and their organizations, are not allowed to share that information with anyone without your explicit permission. HIPAA was founded to ensure that not only will the confidentiality and security of our personal information be safely secured, but that the handling and transfer of electronic files and records is dealt with respectfully.
Under HIPAA guidelines, you maintain control over who learns what about you. Before any entity can disclose information about you to a third party, your explicit authorization must be sought and granted. You must also have constant access to your records and information.
Among the health information that falls under the jurisdiction of HIPAA’s protection are any individual records concerning a person’s mental or physical health, as well provided health care and payments. This includes any and all past, present, and future records.
How Important is HIPAA?
In the internet age, privacy is increasingly becoming harder to maintain. It is more crucial than ever to have a body like HIPAA looking to prevent misuse of our personal information.
Imagine a potential employer having access to your medical history without your permission. What if alcoholism or cancer runs in your family, or you’ve been treated for substance abuse, or have a chronic health problem? Imagine that potential employer deciding it’s not worth the risk, determining, based on this history, that you may turn out to be a potentially unreliable employee, or that your health issues would be too much of a burden on their group health insurance.
This could also apply to two equally qualified candidates vying for the same position with a company. The “healthier” candidate, the one less likely to need sick days or leave the office for medical appointments, could end up getting the job, all because someone allowed, intentionally or not, access to your private records.
This would be against the law and the employer knows it. Only, the fact is, you’d likely never find out what this employer discovered, or how.
Today, thanks to the internet, identity theft, as we all know, is one of the most common crimes in the world. Unfortunately, even the most sensitive materials are sitting on a computer, most likely on some server so that it can be shared with fellow doctors or hospitals. Your name, address, Social Security numbers, driver’s license info, all threatened if they are not securely protected.
There’s also the unfortunate risk of embarrassment and harm to your reputation. Your past should not be a matter of public record. No one should be allowed to access medical information about you that can be used in a divorce or custody hearing.
HIPAA exists to ensure that no one is ever victim to these experiences.
HIPAA and Health Benefits
As important as health benefits are to an employee, there was once the fear, if one switched jobs, of losing needed coverage or certain aspects of coverage. HIPAA limits a new employer’s intent to exclude preexisting conditions in an employee’s health coverage. HIPAA prohibits discrimination based on health factors in all areas involving employees and their dependents. With HIPAA regulations, under certain conditions, individuals are guaranteed access to, and the ability to renew, individual health insurance policies.
HIPAA plays a strong part in keeping the health care and insurance systems efficient and secure. Its standards for disseminating health and medical information protect all of us.