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Your visit to the doctor now contains a page where you sign that you acknowledge that the physician's office has notified you about their compliance with HIPAA laws. More often than not, you probably read through quickly or barely skim the authorization form before signing it. However, HIPAA laws are important, and they are in place to protect you from identity theft, being denied care, and/or health insurance coverage.

HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, enacted in 1996. HIPAA laws created a new national standard in protecting your health information. As you see different physicians or become admitted to different hospitals, your health information should follow you. HIPAA delineates the need to properly protect your health information as it flows through to these different channels. As more and more transactions are completed electronically these days, HIPAA laws focus on the protection of your health information specifically through these channels.

So what does HIPAA protect? For you, HIPAA protects personally identifiable health information, such as your Social Security number, birth date, address, etc., as well as current, past, or even future physical and/or mental conditions or treatment. Such information may not be disclosed except for specific uses. Information that HIPAA does not cover must specifically be personally non-identifiable. In protecting this sort of information, there is more protection against identity theft and more recourse if such a thing should happen.

HIPAA also protects how health insurance providers may use your health information. These entities may use your information without your authorization only if they are sending you information, using this information to provide the best treatment or health care, or collecting payment on medical expenses, among other things. If disclosure of your health information does not fall under these categories, you must authorize the transfer of information in writing. Furthermore, because the government understands that highly technical language can be a barrier in understanding your health information privacy rights, any authorization must be in plain language.

This may all seem like unnecessary paperwork, but beyond identity theft, HIPAA laws also help those looking for health insurance coverage. Title 1 of the HIPAA laws oversees the availability and range of health insurance plans for those without perfect health. It outlaws any health insurance plan from creating discriminatory rules to create premium rates or deny coverage. HIPAA laws are quite extensive, but this gives you a look at how your health information is being protected and used. Your department of health should be able to give you further information, or you can search the government's Web site for the entire HIPAA law.

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