Happy Birthday HIPAA! HIPAA at 20: It's More Than You Think!

Twenty years ago, the summer games of the XXVI Olympiad had just ended in Atlanta.  We were dancing to the “Macarena,” the number one song on the radio.  The first cellular phones were just hitting the market. And on August 21, 1996, our nation committed to transforming health care coverage with the enactment of historic, bipartisan legislation called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA for short.
Many are familiar with HIPAA as a medical privacy and security law.  But it is that and so much more.  A key component of HIPAA’s initial purpose was to allow people to transfer and continue health insurance after they change or lose a job.  This was first made possible in 1985 by passage of health insurance continuation provisions in the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). HIPAA then built upon these gains, and most recently, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) amended and expanded many of the original HIPAA consumer protections.
Prior to the passage of HIPAA, many people were afraid to change jobs out of fear that a preexisting medical condition would prevent them from receiving health insurance coverage. HIPAA addressed this concern through its portability provisions, which lessened the possibility that an individual would lose health care coverage for a preexisting condition when changing to a new employer’s group health plan or when seeking coverage in the individual market.  HIPAA also required group health plans to provide special enrollment periods for employees and their dependents who experience a qualifying event such as loss of other group coverage, birth of a child, or marriage.
HIPAA prohibited group health plans from discriminating based on health status against an employee or a dependent in terms of eligibility or cost of coverage. The ACA expanded this provision to certain individual health insurance policies.  HIPAA also mandated that all individual and group health insurance coverage, including small employers with 2-50 employees, be guaranteed renewable at the option of the individual or employer. 

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