Is your practice ready for the first HIPAA deadline?
By Jason van Steenburgh
If you're like most internists, you probably haven't prepared your practice for the HIPAA regulation that regulates how you can electronically process claims and other transactions. While most physicians have been fretting about the HIPAA privacy rule, however, the transactions rule will take effect in just a few days: Oct. 16.
While you're in good company—huge payers like Medicare have said that they won't meet the deadline—most practices need to file for an extension to comply with federal law. The transactions rule is scheduled to take effect later this month, but almost everyone in health care is waiting for software vendors to make their products HIPAA-compliant. Even if your practice software could send HIPAA-compliant electronic claims, most payers aren't ready to receive claims using the new standard.
While this may sound like a catch-22 situation for physicians, the good news is that you can file for the automatic transactions extension online in about 10 minutes. The easiest way is to use the standard request form that HHS has made available online.
The process is simple, and you don't have to provide extensive detail about why you can't meet the deadline. The government is merely recording extension requests without evaluating them. In other words, you qualify for the extension simply by filling out the form.
While filing for an extension gives you until Oct. 16, 2003, to become fully compliant with the transactions rule, you must begin testing your HIPAA compliant software system by April 16, 2003. Thus the extension really gives you a window of only six more months to update your practice management computer system.
For help in making your practice compliant, start by downloading the College's free HIPAA Electronic Transactions Manual from ACP-ASIM Online.
If you want answers to specific questions, you can send a message to the College's Practice Management Center. For more information, visit the Practice Management Center section of the Web site. (The above documents and the help line are available only to College members.) While you're there, check out the College's Privacy Manual and other HIPAA materials.
Next, ask your software vendors and other business partners where they are in the process, as their plans will affect your compliance schedule. Some vendors, for example, may not plan to update their software, or they may charge large fees for software updates. Start talking with them early so you can avoid being stuck with expensive charges or obsolete software when the extended deadline approaches.
For more information on complying with the HIPAA transactions rule, also see "Tips to help comply with the first HIPAA regulation," in the March 2002 issue of ACP-ASIM Observer.
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