What laws have had the most influence on healthcare?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One law that has dramatically influenced healthcare is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), which was first established in 1996 but did not go into effect until 2013. HIPPA is intended to guard patient privacy and offer protections against unjust acts of healthcare insurance providers. While HIPPA has many benefits, it has also caused some difficulties.

One benefit of HIPPA is that, should a person change jobs, the healthcare plan of the new employer cannot withhold coverage for pre-existing conditions. If a person's pre-existing illness, like diabetes, was covered under their old plan given by their old employer, it must now also be covered under their new plan. Prior to HIPPA, many patients were rejected from healthcare plans based on pre-existing medical conditions.

A second benefit of HIPPA is that it grants patients the right to review, receive copies of, and even correct their medical information, a right that had not existed before.

HIPPA's privacy policies can also be beneficial. The act protects patient information by regulating the amount of information that can be shared, limiting the amount to only the minimum needed to provide patient care. And, patient information can only be shared between hospitals, physicians, insurers hospitals, and other healthcare professionals. Privacy policies also prevent employers from viewing personal patient information in order to make employment-related decisions.

However, HIPPA has also caused some problems. One problem is that HIPPA so heavily regulates healthcare services that doctors and nurses are required to fill out extra paper work in order to ensure those regulations are met. A study conducted by the American Hospital Association (AHA) in collaboration with PricewaterhouseCoopers(PWC) has shown that doctors and nurses must spend between 30 minutes to an hour filling out paper work for every hour of patient care given ("Patients or Paperwork? Regulatory Burden Facing America's Hospitals"). Increases in paperwork can be attributed to Medicare patients needing to fill out new forms, doctors and nurses needing to fill out additional forms for Medicare patients, physicians needing to fill out extra documents when tests or procedures are ordered, nurses needing to fill out a patient-assessment tool called the, Minimum Data Set (MDS) containing 200 questions, and many other forms ("Patients or Paperwork?"). In short, it has been argued that HIPPA has overly regulated healthcare to the point that more time is spent filling out forms and less time is spent providing patient care.

In addition, as a result of HIPPA's privacy policies, some healthcare providers have become overly cautious  when it comes to sharing patient information. Some have become overly cautious to the point that physicians decline to mail test results; some hospitals even make doctors submit written requests for patient information when HIPPA allows for information to be shared via phone. The result is that patient information is not being shared fast enough and effectively enough to treat patients in a timely and effective manner.