Thursday, April 12, 2012

Your papers, please.

Back in '97, my then Continuing Education partner and I risked permanent brain damage read through the entire HIPAA bill [ed: remember when these things were a "mere" 200 pages long?], We found a number of interesting nuggets which had flown under the media and industry radar, among which was a national insurance ID card.

What was so interesting (at least to us) about that was what each digit - or set of digits - represented. As I recall, there were 10 or so digits. The first 2 identified the carrier. Think about that: less than 100 possible carriers. That gave us pause.

The next 2 digits designated plan design. Again: less than 100 possible configurations, all pre-determined/defined. And then some other info I really don’t recall. Interesting/scary, no?

Well, flash forward some 15 years, and:

"Officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are hoping they can start giving health plans Health Plan Identifier (HPID) numbers Oct. 1."

So, a decade-and-a-half late, but at least there's movement.

I'm actually ambivalent about this: of course, the fact that we had to pass the bill to find that what's in it is old news, but why - if this identifier was already included in HIPAA - was it necessary to "reinvent the wheel?" Why not just, you know, implement HIPAA?

The article, by the way, notes (erroneously) that "the HPID project is a sister to other HHS identification number projects spawned by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)."

No, it's not.

But that's a small quibble; I can actually see a benefit to this type of card. As we've noted, medical ID theft is a growing and onerous problem. This may well be an effective tool in the fight against it. For another, Bob opines that "[i]n principle I have no problem (with the NPID). Anything to get away from using SSN for identification purposes . . . especially when your SS card says "not for identification purposes."

On the other hand, though, he echoes this warning: "I suppose the HPID can also be used to scarf up even more medical data on me that will go in to the government database." Not too far-fetched, that.

On balance, though, this may well turn out to be "a good thing."

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