With all of the hullabaloo of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it can be easy to forget about HIPAA and COBRA. With recent changes, more enforcement and larger penalties, letting ACA eclipse HIPAA and COBRA can be a costly mistake to make. After years of experience, people often forget how important it is to remain in compliance with HIPAA and COBRA and that the same simple steps may also make ACA compliance easier and more efficient.
When created, HIPAA and COBRA each caused huge and often costly compliance efforts, just like ACA is now. Today they may seem mundane, but the government has been stepping up both investigations and penalties. These risks cannot be completely mitigated, but they can be reduced by some simple straightforward actions. Among them are:
- Notification: HIPAA and COBRA are laden with a large variety of notices that need to be given at many different times. While the timing can be confusing, setting calendar reminders, checklists and hiring advisors with experience can help ensure notices are updated, timely given and properly documented to make sure a key component of each law is followed.
- Training: Training employees, and even some independent contractors or service providers, can pay large compliance dividends in the future. For as little as a couple of hours a year, major problems, violations and risks can be significantly curtailed. This requires high quality and efficient training, but with assistance from people inside your business and outside consultants, training can be transformed from something employees dread to something they see as important.
- Consistency: Consistency refers to establishing clear policies, practices and procedures (policies) and following them. Establishing policies that work for your business is a major step towards compliance, especially for laws like HIPAA that are often business specific. Once these policies are in place, it is important to follow them. If they are not being followed, it is important to reassess whether they should be changed or the training or other aspects need to be changed.
These might seem like burdensome fixes, but history has shown that these steps can make a major change in a business’s compliance. This history of easing the efforts of compliance bodes well for ACA, where the benefits of notification, training and consistency are already leading to making ACA more understandable, easier to follow and a little less stressful, just as they continue to do for HIPAA and COBRA.
Contributed by Charles M. Russman of Bodman PLC.
View the on-demand webinar “Essentials of HIPAA & COBRA: New & Expanded Rules” with Charles Russman.