If "The Wizard of Oz" taught us nothing else, it's that the real magic takes place behind the scenes. And it was precisely behind the scenes this week that health care reform pulled off another milestone.
You need not know exactly how the magic works, only that it is designed to save you money on your health insurance for years to come.
Not to peek overly long behind the screen, but a little background helps one appreciate the hard work of the largely unrecognized health reform geeks who've been slaving for years to bring America's health care administrative infrastructure into the 21st century.
Back in 1996, Congress recognized the need to computerize how hospitals, physicians, health care providers and insurance companies communicate with each other when it passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. Sure, computers are ubiquitous in our daily lives now. But you'd be shocked at how many administrators still fax forests of paperwork back and forth at a ridiculous cost to you, me and the planet, or simply can't communicate electronically with each other for want of a common framework.
Enter the Affordable Care Act of 2010. It requires Health and Human Services to streamline and standardize health care administrative communications over a five-year period.
In July 2011, HHS issued its first set of regulations to speed eligibility and claim status interactions. Last January, the feds laid out phase two: standards for claim payments made by Electronic Funds Transfer, or EFT, as well as electronic remittance advice, or ERA, an electronic version of a payment explanation.
On Tuesday, HHS formally adopted those EFT and ERA operating rules, which it estimates will save the health care industry, particularly physician practices, between $300 million and $3.3 billion over the next decade. The various players have until Jan. 1, 2014 to bring their back offices into compliance.
In the coming months, HHS plans to introduce standards for a unique identifier for health plans and claims attachments, as well as require participating health plans to certify compliance with this new, improved version of HIPAA brought about by health care reform.
The electronic records initiative doesn't garner a lot of attention, much less recognition, in this gale-force election year.
But it should. Because if there's one thing we can all agree upon in these fractious times, it's that we can't afford to leave health care administration technologically stuck in the Nineties.
Follow me on Twitter.
Subscribe to Bankrate newsletters today!