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Lawmakers Won't Consider Medical Record Charge Increase

medical_records_photo_from_Barry_Gutierrez_of_NPR.jpg
Barry Gutierrez/NPR

The Florida Legislature has killed a measure that would let doctors increase what they charge patients for copies of medical records to $1 a page.

The proposal died not with a bang but a whimper,  tabled indefinitely without ever coming to a vote in the House Subcommittee on Rulemaking Oversight and Repeal .

That panel reviews proposed state rules that would have significant cost to the public. The increase was approved by the Florida Board of Medicine a year ago and affirmed by a hearing officer in December.

“It became apparent the votes were not there,” said the board’s legal advisor, Ed Tellechea. “We hope to bring it back next year, when it’s not an election year.”

Inaction by the Legislature means that even if the state prevails in an appeal of the rule to the courts, the price hike cannot go into effect in 2016.

Doctors and companies that specialize in copying medical records have been pushing for the price increase for years. They say that federal privacy laws make it more time-consuming and costly to copy records than it used to be.  Even without that complication, they say, costs have risen since the current price cap for doctors’ copies was set in 1988.

“The medical community is not looking to make money off this; we’re looking to minimize the amount of money we lose,” doctors’ lobbyist Chris Nuland testified at a subcommittee hearing in January.

Noting that hospitals are allowed to charge $1 a page, “we’re just looking for fairness,” said Alan Pillersdorf, past president of the Florida Medical Association.

The current cap on doctors’ copying charges is $1 a page for the first 25 pages, and a quarter a page after that.  The fee is the same whether records are kept on paper or in a computer.

Proponents of a higher cap for doctors’ copies say the record for an average patient would have only about three dozen pages. That would make the price hike less than $10.

But opponents – including AARP and lawyers who help clients apply for disability or injury claims – say those who have the fattest files are those least able to pay the higher fee: the elderly, disabled, sick and injured.

A 100-page file would cost less than half as much to copy under the current price structure as it would in the one the medical board proposed.