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Understanding how ERISA and HIPAA protect employees

The federal statutes are laced with many acronyms, including IRS, SSA, HIPAA, ERISA, SSDI, and many others. Each acronym refers to a federal statute or portions of a single statute. Two of the most important acronyms for employees are HIPAA and ERISA. Both statutes are very long and enormously complex and cannot be properly summarized in a single blog post. Nevertheless, an understanding of the general purposes of each can aid employees in protecting important rights relating to their rights under employee pension plans and obtaining medical care under employer sponsored health insurance plans.

ERISA is probably familiar to most employees. The acronym refers to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. It was passed in 1986 to ensure that employees would be treated fairly under retirement plans sponsored by their employers. The Act also covers employer-sponsored health care plans. The act's basic provisions require employers to treat all employees fairly in providing coverage and benefits.

HIPAA is a less familiar acronym. Its letters stand for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. It was passed in 1996 as part of an extensive amendment of ERISA. HIPAA has two main goals: ensuring that employees who switch jobs cannot be denied coverage based upon a pre-existing condition if they find work that offers health care insurance and protecting the privacy of patient medical records. The act makes it far easier for employees to change jobs without losing key elements of their health insurance coverage. The act also specifies eight reasons that cannot be cited by an employer or health care insurer as the basis for denying coverage.

Anyone with questions about coverage or benefits provided by a health care or a retirement plan may benefit from consulting an attorney who is knowledgeable about ERISA and HIPAA.

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