HIPAA HelpDesk Established: Now Offers BAA Agreement

HIA HelpDesk provides Business Associate Agreement and HIPAA information

Alexandria, Va — April 14 is a deadline that dispensing professionals don’t want to miss. In a move designed to facilitate industry-wide compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) which starts to take effect in mid-April, the Hearing Industries Association (HIA) launched its HIPAA HelpDesk in February. The resource for hearing care professionals can be found at www.hearing.org/hipaa and serves as an industry clearinghouse of information on HIPAA, and importantly, provides documents that are needed to comply with the new law.

The HIPAA HelpDesk and You
The new Web site is organized into three areas:

  • HIPAA Products: Currently contains the Business Associate Agreement document that can be used as an important component in a HIPAA compliance program (see below). This section will serve as a future portal of forms, documents, and other materials that can be used for compliance purposes by hearing care professionals.
  • WebLinks: Provides access to US government, hearing health care organization, and manufacturer Web sites. This section has been designed as a clearinghouse of information on hearing health and HIPAA.
  • Articles: Contains a plethora of information that has been collected from numerous hearing health care sources on the law. HIA will continue to update this section as new information becomes available.

The HIPAA HelpDesk will be a dynamic site, according to HIA Executive Director Carole Rogin. “HIA will constantly monitor compliance and industry actions relative to HIPAA,” says Rogin, “especially in this first year, and we will draw on experiences from other industries, as well. We hope that dispensing professionals will join our HIA manufacturers at the site to make it a rich and current resource for the industry.”

HIPAA has posed a definitional, as well as a procedural, challenge to the hearing care industry. With a relatively low level of third-party payment for hearing instruments, manufacturers have struggled with determinations of their own compliance requirements, as well as the desire to assist dispensing professionals. “In tackling this issue, we put our customers’ concerns first,” says HIA Chairman President Jerry Ruzicka of Starkey Laboratories. “All manufacturers were getting the same questions and hearing the same concerns, so we have decided to do things together that will be easiest for our mutual customers. We want to ensure that we encourage sales rather than placing additional burdens on the process.”

David Woodbury, director of government relations for HIA, says it’s almost certain that more HIPAA-related materials that can be used jointly by hearing care professionals and manufacturers will be available on the Web site soon. “We’re reviewing other requests and requirements,” says Woodbury. “Particularly, as eTONA comes online [see Scott Peterson’s article on page 38] and things like security requirements need to be addressed, it would behoove dispensers to keep checking this Web site.”

Sometimes Being BAA-d is GOOD
The first standardized document that visitors will find on the HelpDesk is a Business Associate Agreement (BAA). According to the schedule contained in the law, dispensing professionals must have BAA’s on file with each manufacturer with which they do business beginning April 14, 2003, while other aspects of the legislation have later compliance dates. The HIA’s BAA has reportedly been endorsed by the leadership of the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) and the International Hearing Society (IHS).

Talking about the BAA, Mikael Worning, president of Oticon, says, “We have worked closely with our manufacturing colleagues to develop an agreement that works well for dispensers and for manufacturers and that covers all the HIPAA privacy requirements. Our customers who use the HIA Business Associate Agreement will receive an immediate response from us, as we have already signed off on its contents. We understand what the agreement states, we have already reviewed it, and we can sign it immediately.”

“The HIA Business Associate Agreement is a clear advantage to both the dispenser and manufacturers,” says Ken Meyer of Starkey Laboratories, co-chair of the HIA task force that developed the HIPAA HelpDesk. “A dispensing professional saves time on both ends, not needing to waste effort developing their own BAA and not needing to negotiate with manufacturers over wording. In addition, BAA’s are returned quickly. Manufacturers are spared the burden of detailed reading of multiple agreements and being bound to different conditions for different customers. The dispensers I have shared the HIA BAA concept with have been both grateful and delighted.”

“Using the HIA Business Associate agreement will ensure that you receive the quickest response from us in complying with HIPAA,” says Ron Meltsner, president of Widex Hearing Aid Company. “In conjunction with our fellow manufacturers, we have created this BAA and are confident that it will meet the needs of your customers, as well as our needs as your Business Associate. Using this BAA will ensure that we at Widex will sign and enter into this Agreement immediately. If a different BAA is used, this will cause a delay, as we will be required to review it and correspond with you on any necessary changes.”

“With the new regulations coming out, we want to do what we can to make HIPAA compliance easier for our customers,” says Andy Raguskus, president of Sonic Innovations. “A single, Business Associate Agreement that is endorsed by both manufacturer and dispensing organizations will make compliance to the HIPAA regulations easier for all of us. It will eliminate costly negotiations over the specific terms of the agreement. In addition, our customers can expect a fast response when they use the BAA we have endorsed.”

Dispensing professionals who do not have online access can request a copy of BAA document from their hearing instrument suppliers or go to the local library and have the form printed from the www.hearing.org/hipaa Web site.