HIPAA Compliance in Medical Billing
HIPAA Compliance in Medical Billing

According to a recent study, approximately 40% of healthcare organizations are unaware of the latest HIPAA compliance policies and guidelines. This situation is particularly alarming because HIPAA violations not only result in heavy fines and penalties but also entail numerous other legal complications. Consequently, any healthcare provider dealing with health data must possess a comprehensive understanding of HIPAA compliance in Medical Billing.

 This blog serves as a guide, providing insights into the main purpose, privacy rule, security rule, in-house, and outsourced medical billing. Additionally, it addresses common HIPAA violations, their repercussions, and offers pro tips for healthcare providers to navigate this complex regulatory landscape effectively.

What is HIPAA and Why is it Important?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was passed and enacted by the US Congress on August 21, 1996. It is a series of laws that provide data privacy and security provisions to safeguard sensitive patient information. Shortly after the enactment of HIPAA, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) passed the first version of HIPAA privacy and security rules.

In medical billing and coding, HIPAA compliance means that all the entities involved in revenue cycle management, such as healthcare insurance companies, healthcare providers, and medical billing companies, must adhere to the guidelines set by HIPAA privacy and security rules.

Purpose of HIPAA 

HIPAA has the following main purposes:

  • The main purpose of HIPAA is to establish national standards for the protection of patient health information. These standards ensure the credibility, integrity, and privacy of patient health information.
  • HIPAA sets rules on how patients’ information can be used and disclosed. Through HIPAA, people are provided with access to their health records.
  • It helps to improve the overall efficiency of the healthcare system by standardizing electronic transactions.
  • HIPAA establishes civil penalties for non-compliance with the law. Furthermore, a comprehensive guide on data breach notification is also provided.

Events that forced the Authorities to Introduce HIPAA

  • A hospital worker released a country singer’s health records to a tabloid magazine for $2610.
  • A hacker stole 5000 patients’ health information, medical data, and social security numbers.
  • Two newspapers received a computer station holding the names of 4000 HIV-positive people.
  •  Thousands of medical records on their way to be destroyed were thrown out of the vehicle and scattered around Mesa, Arizona.

HIPAA Privacy Rules

  • Officially, referred to as the Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information.
  • Sets the National Standards for protecting the Patient health Information (PHI).
  • Determines the hospitals, ambulatory care center, and long-term care institutions, and other healthcare entities utilize and exchange protected health information.
  • Imposes restrictions and exceptions on the utilization and revelation of the unauthorized patient health information.
  • Individual rights to their protected health information include the power to scrutinize and have a replica of the copies of their health
  • A person can ask a covered entity to transmit an electronic copy that their health information is released to a third party in an electronic health record and request to amend.

HIPAA Security Rules

The Security Standards for the Protection of Electronic Protected Health Information (ePHI) defines rules and procedures for the security of patient data.

The HIPAA Security rules require 3 safeguards: Administrative, technical, and physical.

  1. Administrative safeguards encompass the establishment of policies and procedures that regulate security measures within an organization. Additionally, they involve designating a security officer and creating a holistic security management process that prevents, detects, mitigates, and corrects security violations.
  2. Technical safeguards, on the other hand, refer to the implementation of mechanisms to safeguard electronic protected health information (ePHI) during the process of electronic transmission and storage. Key measures, such as encryption, access controls, and audit controls, are among the protocols in place to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI across information systems and networks.
  3. Physical security controls who has physical access to facilities and electronic information systems containing ePHI. These safeguards incorporate establishing policies and processes on facility access controls, workstation use, and security in an attempt to prevent unauthorized access and protect patient information.

Did You Know?

In 2016, the Feinstein Institute received a $3.9 million fine for failing to encrypt a stolen laptop, marking the second largest HIPAA fine imposed on any covered institution to date. A thief stole the laptop from a car, exposing the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of nearly 13,000 patients.

In-House Medical Billing and HIPAA Compliance

Staff within a healthcare facility perform the billing and administrative tasks for in-house medical billing. Moreover, HIPAA regulations subject it to ensuring the confidentiality of patient information. Staff should undergo thorough training on HIPAA rules and be aware of their responsibilities. Security measures like access controls and encryption are essential to safeguarding patient data. 

Additionally, readable privacy policies specify how information will be managed, and contracts with vendors guarantee compliance with HIPAA. Regular audits and excellent documentation strengthen continuous compliance efforts. Adhering to HIPAA requirements allows healthcare facilities to guarantee the security of patient data and gain the trust of their patients.

Outsourced Medical Billing and HIPAA Compliance

When outsourcing the medical billing process to a third-party provider, healthcare organizations must ensure HIPAA compliance. This means guaranteeing that the patient’s information remains secure and confidential. Additionally, the outsourcing company should receive training on HIPAA regulations and know their duties.

 Moreover, there should be clear agreements that define the necessary compliance expectations. On-going audits and monitoring ensure compliance with HIPAA standards. With a focus on HIPAA compliance, outsourced medical billing will be able to secure patients’ privacy and maintain trust with healthcare providers.

Common HIPAA Violations

Here are some common HIPAA violations that need to be avoided by healthcare providers.

Lost and Stolen Devices

Thieves can steal items like laptops, USBs, and mobiles from healthcare institutions. These devices often store sensitive patient data and can be used for impersonation or other cybercrimes, such as medical fraud.


Snooping on the Health Record

Patient privacy is breached when health records are accessed for a purpose other than that authorized by the Privacy Rule. However, the most frequent HIPAA breach by employees is the act of peeping at the medical records of family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and celebrities.


Absence of the Organization-Typing Risk Analysis

An organization-wide risk analysis allows the company to find all the vulnerabilities in its systems, tighten security, and raise the level of secrecy. Generally, it helps an organization comply with HIPAA.

 Inappropriate Disposal of PHI and Medical Data

Healthcare providers must properly dispose of any health information record of any patient, whether in paper or electronic form.

Failure to have a Business Associate Agreement with a Third-Party Contractor

Almost all organizations have a contract worker. Business associates should have an agreement before allowing access to PHI from any healthcare organization.


Lack of security risk management

Each identified risk should go through the risk management process. Healthcare providers need to prioritize addressing these risks and tackle them without delay.

Do You Know?

In 2013, authorities jailed a surgeon for four months and fined them two thousand dollars. Huping Zhou, an employee of the UCLA Healthcare System, illegally accessed the ePHI of several famous individuals, including celebrities.


Repercussions for Healthcare Providers 

Loss of Hospital Privileges

HIPAA violations may lead to the revocation of physicians’ hospital privileges. Consequently, This has a direct impact on the ability of these healthcare providers to deliver services and, therefore, the resulting revenue.


Patients Switch to Another Provider: Revenue Loss

Patients may go to other providers if they lose confidence in one due to privacy or security breaches. This can be expensive for the healthcare facility.

Loss of Medical License

In extreme scenarios, non-compliance may lead to losing a physician’s medical license and therefore forbidding him or her from working as a healthcare provider.


Provider Exclusions from the Insurance Panel

Insurance companies may remove providers from their panels if they do not meet the requirements of the plans. Consequently, the panel of insurance companies does not contain these non-compliant providers. Moreover, this could also result in a considerable loss of patients and revenue.

Regular Audits by OCR

Non-compliance can draw the non-compliant to the attention of the OCR, which is an organization that enforces HIPAA. This could lead to more attention, the possibility of regular audits, which might incur fines, and the need for considerable investments in keeping to the rules.

HIPAA Compliance Pro Tips for Healthcare Providers

Here are some  pro tips that can help the healthcare providers be compliant with the HIPAA regulations:

  • Conduct regular, ongoing training sessions to educate staff on HIPAA regulations, highlighting the importance of patient privacy and the correct handling of sensitive information.
  • Use encrypted databases and secured servers to store electronic patient records, restricting access to authorized people only.
  • Create in-depth policies and procedures that cover all HIPAA compliance aspects. This includes data security, breach response protocols, and patient privacy rights.
  • Carry out periodic internal audits to check on compliance with the HIPAA privacy standards, identify potential risks, and take the needed corrective measures as soon as possible.
  • Have a clear and tested incident response plan in place to react immediately to breaches of security or data breaches. Thus, minimizes the negative impacts on patients and avoids legal repercussions.
  • Keep up-to-date about revisions and modifications to HIPAA rules to maintain your organization’s compliance with the most recent regulations.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, HIPAA compliance in medical billing is important for health care providers to maintain their patients’ trust by keeping their information confidential. According to HIPAA, healthcare organizations can protect the security and privacy of sensitive information by following the outlined guidelines. Regular training, complete policies, and solid security measures will enable compliance to remain. However, by keeping with HIPAA regulations and best practices, your organization can also showcase that you care about the confidentiality and safety of patients.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *