Since the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), all health entities covered by HIPAA have been required to submit their claims electronically, except in certain circumstances. Most providers, clearinghouses, and payers are covered by HIPAA. Note that HIPAA does not require physicians to conduct all transactions electronically. Only those standard transactions listed under HIPAA guidelines must be completed electronically. Claims are one such standard transaction.
Billers may still use manual claims, but this practice has significant drawbacks. Manual claims have a high rate of errors, low levels of efficiency, and take a long time to get from providers to payers. Billing electronically saves time, effort, and money, and significantly reduces human or administrative error in the billing process. In the case of high-volume third-party payers, like Medicare or Medicaid, billers can submit the claim directly to the payer. If, however, a biller is not submitting a claim directly to these large payers, they will most likely go through a clearinghouse.
A clearinghouse is a third-party organization or company that receives and reformats claims from billers and then transmits them to payers. Some payers require claims to be submitted in very specific forms. Clearinghouses ease the burden of medical billers by taking the information necessary to create a claim and then placing it in the appropriate form. Think of it this way: A practice may send out ten claims to ten different insurance payers, each with their own set of guidelines for claim submission. Instead of having to format each claim specifically, a biller can simply send the relevant information to a clearinghouse, which will then handle the burden of reformatting those ten different claims.