As the comment period winds down for the first wave of HHS' proposed administrative simplification rules, a newly proposed rule standardizing employer identification seeks feedback on using an Internal Revenue Service number in healthcare.
The national employer identifier is the second of three proposals due from HHS to simplify the maze of ways insurers keep track of the principals in healthcare transactions.
A national provider identifier was proposed in early May, along with standards for sending claims transactions electronically (May 11, p. 25). The 60-day window for commenting on those proposals ends July 6. A national standard for identifiers of health plans has yet to be proposed.
The simplification projects for electronic healthcare business transactions are mandated by a provision of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
Because no single identification scheme was dominant among healthcare providers, HHS in May proposed a national provider assignment system from scratch. The employer identification system could be far simpler.
Casting around for a logical national identifier, HHS found that the taxpayer identification number is the most widely used employer identifier in the nation.
Any business that pays wages to one or more employees must have an employer identification number for tax purposes, HHS explained on a World Wide Web site devoted to the simplification issues. Comments can be made through the Web site: http: aspe.os.dhhs. gov/admnsimp.
Under the proposed rule, providers, health plans and health claims clearinghouses are required to use the standard employer identifier in electronic transactions where an employer ID is necessary.
Employers are obligated to disclose their identifiers to any organization that conducts standard electronic transactions requiring those numbers. HHS said the tax numbers are not considered private and may be freely exchanged by employers and others. Since the IRS is responsible for issuing the tax numbers, HHS consulted with that agency on the legality and feasibility of using the numbers for electronic healthcare transactions. The IRS gave the go-ahead in January.
The plan is not problem-free. For example, some organizations have more than one tax identification number. HHS is seeking comment on whether it's important to designate one number to be used consistently to avoid confusion and keep things simple-the object of the law. The department also seeks advice on how to choose one number over another.
HHS also is seeking comment on the sensitivity of using the IRS list, acknowledging that some employers may not want to supply their tax identifying numbers.