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The Coming HIPAAcalypse?

Posted Dec 02 2008 3:08am

Mayan Calendar There was a television show on at about 3:00 AM the other morning that, once again, predicted the end of the world. This time, it was the manifestation of predictions from two ends of the earth: both the ancient Chinese and the Mayan Indians concluded 5,000 years ago that the world would end on December 21, 2012. (I think that Merlin the Magician was involved too, but he would have been just a kid 5,000 years ago!) Both predictions were written at nearly the same time, and both predicted the same date, but I believe that I have discovered what may contribute to this major catastrophe:

It is my prediction that the collapse of the planet as we know it will come from HIPAA.

According to Wikipedia,

“The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1996. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services explain that Title I of HIPAA protects health insurance coverage for workers and their families when they change or lose their jobs. Title II of HIPAA, known as 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.”

Sounds pretty reasonable, doesn’t it? Just hire a full time security person for your electronic medical records, oh and don’t forget to spend millions to create the medical records in the first place. After that, life will be just fine? Right? Wrong.

If you have had little training in what the term oxymoron means, this would be a classic example; “ The Administrative Simplification provision. ” This provision was intended to deal with the privacy and security of health data. That is also a very noble idea. If two patients are in the same room, and someone is discussing the status of either patient, there should be a sound proof curtain between them. Soundproof curtains would also qualify as an oxymoron. For those of us who have lived this nightmare called HIPAA, Senator Kennedy has often been quoted regarding the fact that his intentions when designing this act have become grossly bureaucratic in their implementation.

Here’s the totally mystifying, Merlin-type description; the standards are meant to improve the effectiveness of our health care system by encouraging the extensive use of electronic data interchange in the U.S. health care system. Seriously, all of this sounds good. The problem comes when hundreds or thousands of government bureaucratic health care wonks and healthcare attorneys are introduced into the equation.

Well, a few weeks ago, according to Managed Healthcare Executive Magazine, the department of Health and Human Services, Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) and Providence Health Services, Providence Health System, and Providence Hospice and Home Care entered into the first case where a monetary settlement was paid to resolve a potential violation of the HIPAA privacy and security standards.

Providence agreed, without admission of liability, to pay $100,000 to the government over a data breach. This case did not involve a single egregious violation. So, it appears that, HHS may believe that enforcement time has come as they become more aggressive in their investigations and enforcement of these laws. Hence, the end of the world may be approaching. If all of the hospitals are fined into closure, and then the avian flu hits, the most often heard phrase will be “Hasta la vista, Baby.”

I don’t mean to make light of such an important topic as patient confidentiality or the potential portability of health insurance, but, if any of us mere mortals could objectively step back and witness the chaos, expense, and outright insanity created by the current implementation of these statutes, the only objective phrase that could eventually emit from that experience would be, “Holy, $%#@&!”

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