Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1996. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' (CMS) website, Title I of HIPAA protects health insurance coverage for workers and their families when they change or lose their jobs.
Title II of HIPAA, the Administrative Simplification (AS) provisions, requires the establishment of national standards for electronic health care transactions and national identifiers for providers, health insurance plans, and employers.
The AS provisions also address the security and privacy of health data. The standards are meant to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the nation's health care system by encouraging the widespread use of electronic data interchange in the US health care system.
Title I: Health Care Access, Portability, and Renewability
Title I of HIPAA regulates the availability and breadth of group and individual health insurance plans. It amends both the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and the Public Health Service Act.
Title I prohibits any group health plan from creating eligibility rules or assessing premiums for individuals in the plan based on health status, medical history, genetic information, or disability. This does not apply to private individual insurance.
Title I also limits restrictions that a group health plan can place on benefits for preexisting conditions. Group health plans may refuse to provide benefits relating to preexisting conditions for a period of 12 months after enrollment in the plan or 18 months in the case of late enrollment. However, individuals may reduce this exclusion period if they had health insurance prior to enrolling in the plan. Title I allows individuals to reduce the exclusion period by the amount of time that they had "creditable coverage" prior to enrolling in the plan and after any "significant breaks" in coverage. "Creditable coverage" is defined quite broadly and includes nearly all group and individual health plans, Medicare, and Medicaid. A "significant break" in coverage is defined as any 63 day period without any creditable coverage.
To illustrate, suppose someone enrolls in a group health plan on January 1, 2006. This person had previously been insured from January 1, 2004 until February 1, 2005 and from August 1, 2005 until December 31, 2005. To determine how much coverage can be credited against the exclusion period in the new plan, start at the enrollment date and count backwards until you reach a significant break in coverage. So, the five months of coverage between August 1, 2005 and December 31, 2005 clearly counts against the exclusion period. But the period without insurance between February 1, 2005 and August 1, 2005 is greater than 63 days. Thus, this is a significant break in coverage, and any coverage prior to it cannot be deducted from the exclusion period. So, this person could deduct five months from his or her exclusion period, reducing the exclusion period to seven months, Hence, Title I requires that any preexisting condition begin to be covered on August 1, 2006.
Title I also forbids individual health plans from denying coverage or imposing preexisting condition exclusions on individuals who have at least 18 months of creditable group coverage without significant breaks and who are not eligible to be covered under any group, state, or federal health plans at the time they seek individual insurance .
Title II: Preventing Health Care Fraud and Abuse; Administrative Simplification; Medical Liability Reform
Title II of HIPAA defines numerous offenses relating to health care and sets civil and criminal penalties for them. It also creates several programs to control fraud and abuse within the health care system. However, the most significant provisions of Title II are its Administrative Simplification rules. Title II requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to draft rules aimed at increasing the efficiency of the health care system by creating standards for the use and dissemination of health care information.