HIPAA is the acronym for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. Known primarily as the health privacy law, it provides federal protections for personal health information held by covered entities and gives patients a large number of rights as far as how that information is shared.
The law also protects an individual's ability to keep or obtain health insurance regardless of employment status or health condition.
The Labor Department, which enforces the law, provides this summary of HIPAA:
• It limits the ability of a new employer plan to exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions.
• It provides additional opportunities to enroll in a group health plan if people lose their coverage or experience certain life events.
• It prohibits discrimination against employees and their dependent family members based on any health factors they may have, including prior medical conditions, previous claims experience and genetic information.
• It guarantees that certain individuals will have access to, and can renew, individual health insurance policies.
Before the law was passed, companies could refuse to provide coverage to an individual who had an ailment or disease before getting the job. Under HIPAA, a company can only look back six months and apply exclusion for coverage for a particular medical condition. It can also apply this exclusion for no more than 12 months after someone has become employed.