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Consumer groups fighting proposed higher charges for medical records

Lori Coleman sorts through inactive medical records at the Pinellas County Jail in Largo. A proposal would make copies of those records more expensive for patients who request them.

Douglas R. Clifford | Times (2001)

Lori Coleman sorts through inactive medical records at the Pinellas County Jail in Largo. A proposal would make copies of those records more expensive for patients who request them.

Consumer advocates and attorneys are lining up against a proposal to allow patients requesting their own medical records to be charged up to four times what they pay now.

The proposed change, which comes before the Florida Board of Medicine on Friday, is the result of a request by a lobbyist for HealthPort Technologies LLC, a national company that contracts with doctors groups to handle medical records.

Currently, state rules allow health providers to charge patients $1 per page for the first 25 pages and 25 cents per page after that. The request would allow $1 charges for every page.

It may not sound huge, but opponents say it adds up quickly, especially for patients who need hundreds of records to apply for disability benefits or file malpractice claims.

"It just seems unfair to charge them these excessive amounts," said Alice Vickers, with the Florida Consumer Action Network.

HealthPort's lobbyist, Cynthia Henderson, wrote in a letter to the Board of Medicine that the request will simplify the state administrative code. The proposed change also makes the cost of electronic documents the same as paper copies.

Henderson said producing copies is not a simple process. Medical copying companies — they are known as the "release of information" industry — must follow detailed procedures to ensure patient confidentiality, she wrote.

"Many people mistakenly believe that production of electronic medical records is as simple as locating a file on a server and attaching it to an email and hitting send or copying it to a disc or flash drive," she wrote to the board. "Similarly, many people believe production of paper copies is as simple as retrieving the file from a shelf or drawer and putting it in a copy machine and hitting 'start.' "

Vickers said the records contractors have not shown why they are entitled to higher rates.

"I think you're talking big bucks here when you look at the volume of medical records," she said.

At least one class of people already have been paying the higher $1 per page rate: lawyers. The existing state code says only that patients and governments are entitled to the 25-cent provision. So HealthPort has charged lawyers, even those acting on behalf of patients, at a rate of $1 per page.

Barbara Allen, a 69-year-old Tampa resident, hired an attorney after falling at a Family Dollar store last year and breaking her femur. When her attorney requested her medical records from her orthopedic group, he was charged at the higher rate, which turned into a $217 bill. That cost was passed on to her.

"That's why you spend all this time signing legal paperwork, getting them to act on your behalf," said Allen, who would've owed a little over $70 if her lawyer had been charged the same as a patient.

Now Allen is the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against HealthPort, alleging that the company had overcharged her attorney and was "essentially holding records ransom for the payment of unlawful fees."

The Florida Board of Medicine's meeting will be held at the Hilton Deerfield Beach/Boca Raton in Deerfield Beach.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3374.

Consumer groups fighting proposed higher charges for medical records 07/30/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 10:31pm]
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