The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 1996. The main element of the Act is that it is a law which guarantees and protects health insurance for workers and their families in cases where they lose their jobs. The Act led to the creation of national standards for electronic health care and the linkage of health care to the identity of individuals, health insurance companies and employers. Privacy is a major element of the Act and it provides a digitalization and computerization of the administration of health insurance for workers in the United States.
History of the HIPAA Regulations
As a background to the Act, it must be noted that there was a series of uncoordinated Acts that covered healthcare and health information of patients. These laws were somewhat remote and they did not create direct obligations on practitioners in the health sector. In other words, people whose information was abused in the health sector could raise civil cases. However, there were no direct laws that criminalized the abuse of privileged information in the health sector. Thus, there was a general need for the creation of a single unified law that dealt with the issue.
The HIPAA regulations came to force in 1996 after a number of concerns were raised in relation to confidentiality rules and principles. At the heart of the factors that forced the creation of the HIPAA law is the landmark case of Jaffee V Redmond (1996). In the case, Jaffee was a police officer who shot a person on the grounds that the individual was wielding a deadly weapon and was chasing another person. Hence, she saw it necessary to shoot the victim in order to prevent him from causing serious injury to the pursued. However, information put forward by witnesses suggested otherwise. They claimed that there was actually no danger to the pursued and thus, the actions of Jaffee was unwarranted. Redmond sought to find out the root cause of the shooting and hence, demanded for the medical and counseling records of Jaffee to prove to the courts that Jaffee had some issues and was not competent to carry out her tasks as a police officer. The issue of the admissibility of the evidence of Jaffee's records led to a series of appeals (Meyer and Weaver, 2006). Eventually, the case was presented to the Supreme Court who had to rule on whether a person's medical records could be disclosed for court cases or it was to be held in confidence and hence was inadmissible. There were 7 votes against the admissibility of medical records and 2 for the admissibility of such evidence (Meyer and Weaver, 2006). The bottomline of the Jaffee V Redmond case was that medical records were to be held in confidence and should not be disclosed to a third party without the proper procedures. Hence, there was the need for the streamlining of the principle of confidentiality of medical records. This led to the impetus for the passing of the HIPAA Law in the same year. In order to critique the concept of privacy indicates that it has deep roots in the laws of the United States and all modern and “civilized” nations. “Invasion of privacy is the unwarranted appropriation or exploitation of one's personality, publicizing one's private affairs with which the public has no legitimate concern, or wrongful intrusion into one's private activities, in such a manner as to cause mental suffering or humiliation to a person of ordinary sensibilities”