Bill Aims to Lower Fees Patients Pay to Obtain Their Medical Records

Andrew Kitchenman | August 4, 2015 | Health Care
Maximum price would be cut in half for paper copies from hospitals, drop even more overall for electronic records

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Healthcare providers frequently charge high fees for copies of medical records – even though the trend in the healthcare industry is to encourage patients to be engaged in their own care and for information to become more transparent.

That’s why Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak (D-Atlantic, Cape May, and Cumberland) has introduced a bill, A-4611, that would lower the maximum amount charged by hospitals from $200 to $100 for paper copies, while also reducing the amount hospitals and doctors’ offices could charge for electronic copies.

The assemblyman said he introduced the measure in response to concerns raised by elderly residents faced with repeated bills for copies of their records.

Under the legislation, which would make New Jersey’s fees among the lowest in the countery, patients would pay the lower of either $100 or the combination of 50 cents per page and an administrative fee of $15.

For example, a person requesting 50 pages of records from a hospital would pay $40 ($25 to cover the per-page fee and $15 for the administrative fee), while a person requesting 200 pages of records would pay the maximum $100. Currently patients would pay as much as $60 for 50 pages and $200 for 200 pages (based on the current rates of $1 per page plus a $10 administrative fee).

The law wouldn’t lower the maximum charged by doctors and other professionals licensed by the State Board of Medical Examiners (current state regulations set a maximum payment of $100 to these providers). However, it would lower the per-page fee for patients whose files are less than 170 pages, from $1 per page to 50 cents.

“What we’re trying to do is help out the elderly and help out people that are on a fixed income,” Andrzejczak said.

The assemblyman added that he would really like to see the cost of medical records included with costs that patients already pay.

“Capping it at $100 is definitely fair as far as covering the cost of whatever effort is being put in,” by office staff, he said.

The people who would benefit the most are those with complex or chronic medical conditions that require them to see multiple specialists across separate healthcare systems.

Andrzejczak said he wanted to “lighten up the burden a little bit” on seniors and those with serious health problems.

The bill may have its most dramatic effect on electronic records, setting a maximum payment of $50, which is one quarter of the current maximum for hospitals and half the current maximum for doctor’s offices. Patients would be charged either $50 or the actual cost of providing the records to the provider, whichever is less expensive.

“The doctor’s office isn’t paying for the ink, they aren’t paying for the paper – there’s a lot less involved” than there is with paper records, Andrzejczak said.

The bill would also require that medical records be provided without cost to patients whose annual income is below 250 percent of the poverty line, which currently amounts to $29,425 for a single person and $60,625 for a family of four. Nonprofit organizations that represent low-income residents, as well as attorneys representing them without charge, would also be able to receive the records for free.

Andrzejczak is hopeful that the bill will draw bipartisan support.

The Medical Society of New Jersey, the state’s largest doctors’ group, is reviewing the bill. Society CEO Larry Downs noted that the legislation could actually raise costs for patients who receive fewer than 10 pages of records, since the maximum administrative fee would increase from $10 to $15.

“Whether it’s necessary or not, it’s hard to determine at this point,” he said.

Fees for medical-record copies vary widely across the country, according to data compiled by Florida-based private record business MedeFile. New Jersey is the only state listed by the company as having a maximum charge, without regard to the number of pages printed.

The bill has been referred to the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee. A Senate version hasn’t been introduced yet.