HIPAA Business Associate Agreement

What is a Business Associate Agreement (BAA)?

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What is a Business Associate Agreement (BAA)?

When healthcare companies sign up for a HIPAA-compliant IT environment with a cloud hosting service, that outside organization is acting as a business associate according to the guidelines of HIPAA. In order to legally work with that organization and still follow the stipulations of the Act, medical businesses must sign a contract with the service (as with any outside party serving in a similar role) called a business associate’s agreement (BAA). Many companies do not understand why they need a BAA and what exactly is involved. Here, below, are the details.

How the BAA fits in – basic HIPAA elements & definitions

First, a brief review of HIPAA and its primary component parts allows us to place the business associate’s agreement in context.

The vast majority of healthcare companies must abide by the parameters of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), an Act passed by the United States Congress in 1996 that safeguards American citizens’ health data. The data that falls under the auspices of the law – as governed by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) – is designated, collectively, as protected health information (PHI).

PHI is typically handled by covered entities. Organizations in that category include healthcare providers, healthcare plans, and healthcare clearinghouses. Examples of each type of HIPAA-compliant organization are as follows:

  • providers – doctors, dentists, nursing homes, pharmacies, etc.
  • plans – health insurance companies, HMOs, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.
  • clearinghouses – transcription services, etc.

Any of the above organizations necessarily handle PHI as a central responsibility of their business. The Privacy Rule and Security Rule of HIPAA require covered entities to protect patient data from loss, theft, or any other misuse.

A covered entity can choose to work with a business associate, outsourcing certain aspects of operations to a trusted third party. In order to appropriately place responsibility into the hands of the external organization, both companies must agree to the terms of a BAA. By signing the agreement, the business associate agrees to safeguard PHI and to perform its obligations to the covered entity within the guidelines of HIPAA.

What is a BAA?

A Business Associate's Agreement, or BAA, is an legal agreement between a covered entity and a business associate that defines the parameters for the business associate's use, handling, and protection of, and responsibility for, patient health information (PHI).

Characteristics of a HIPAA BAA

According to the HIPAA guidelines, a BAA must do the following (as discussed by healthcare video-conferencing company SecureVideo in a 2013 article):

  • describe the specific ways in which PHI is being used (transferred, processed, and/or stored) by the business associate, along with any ways in which they are being contracted by the covered entity to disclose PHI;
  • establish that the business associate cannot use or disclose any health data beyond the purposes established in the agreement, except in special cases when cooperating with law enforcement;
  • dictate that the business associate must have strong, proven protections established that disallow any malicious or otherwise unlawful PHI disclosure, use, or access – one part of which is the electronic means stipulated by the HIPAA Security Rule (including VPN capability and SSL encryption within a firewall-secured private network);
  • stipulate that the business associate must immediately notify the covered entity if PHI is used or disclosed in a manner that goes beyond the parameters established in the agreement, such as in the event of a data breach;
  • direct the business associate that it must protect data but also make it readily available, so that individuals can get access to their medical records as established by the law and have the ability to revise their PHI according to the amending/accounting guidelines set forth in HIPAA;
  • outline the business associate to follow the Privacy Rule of HIPAA (to whatever degree the covered entity is entrusting the business associate to handle privacy-related activities);
  • state that the business associate must allow the Department of Health & Human Services access to its policy documents and all accounting files that pertain to PHI use and disclosure – whether the applicable data is obtained directly from the covered entity or representing its interests – so that the US government can properly determine compliance;
  • delineate the need for the business associate to return any PHI to the covered entity or to completely delete all PHI data – whether that data was obtained via the covered entity or in the business associate’s capacity as its representative – if and when the agreement between the two parties ends, if such return or deletion is possible and reasonably accomplished;
  • hold the business associate responsible for its relationship with subcontractors who may additionally be exposed to PHI, so that they are held accountable with the same requirements that pertain to the business associate; and
  • allow the covered entity to cancel the agreement at any time if the business associate is in noncompliance with any of its stipulations.

Atlantic.Net's HIPAA Business Associate Agreement (BAA)

According to The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), there are two different types of organizations that must ensure compliance: covered entities and business associates. Atlantic.Net™ falls into the latter category, a third-party entity contracted to handle ePHI (electronic protected health information).

In order to both comply with the law and assure our clients that we’re committed to keeping their information safe, we’ve drafted up a HIPAA Business Associate Agreement, or BAA. BAAs are a type of HIPAA-Compliant documentation that is critical to our relationship with healthcare firms and medical practitioners alike, as it firmly establishes the legal parameters for our use of ePHI. The following three components are central to this contract:

  • Business associate’s role – the exact nature of the third party’s interaction with the healthcare data, including any forms of use and disclosure.
  • Limitations – the prohibition of the third-party from any forms of use or disclosure not stated in the agreement.
  • Security requirements – the necessity for extensive security technologies and protocols to guard against any unauthorized use or disclosure.

In conjunction with our SOC 2 TYPE II and SOC 3 TYPE II certified data center, our BAA documentation shows that we’re committed to keeping the private healthcare information of our clients both safe and secure. Moreover, BAAs show that we’re willing to go beyond the minimum standards of compliance established in HIPAA. Healthcare organizations that choose us as a host have the peace of mind that can only come from knowing that they’re partnered with a veteran - and one that’s completely committed to their best interests, at that.

For more information about our HIPAA Business Associate Agreement or to request a copy of our agreement, please contact us today!

This page was updated on February 5, 2019.

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