New York law eliminates medical record fees for those seeking government benefits

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo
N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that eliminates medical record fees for residents applying for disability benefits. (Diana Robinson/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A new law that prohibits healthcare providers in New York from charging a fee to low-income, disabled residents applying for government benefits is being called a “huge win” by legal groups that say previous fee waivers were frequently ignored.

The bill (PDF), signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week, amends New York’s public health and mental hygiene laws to eliminate any fees associated with providing requested medical records for residents applying for Social Security disability or Medicaid benefits.

The previous law allowed providers to “impose a reasonable fee” for processing medical records not exceeding $0.75 per page. However, the law also stated an inability to pay that fee should not disqualify patients from receiving their records.

But the bill’s sponsors argued that although the law includes a fee waiver, “all too-often, in practice, this does not occur,” adding that the requirements has been “routinely ignored and poorly enforced.” The new amendments require providers to provide records free of charge in either electronic or paper form at the request of the state or a patient.

Legal advocates from across the state labeled the legislation “a huge win,” noting that applications for government benefits can be denied or delayed without timely access to medical records.

“Navigating the arduous disability appeals process can be especially challenging for those with mental impairments. By improving access to medical records, this law will help prevent unnecessary delay and the wrongful denial of benefits,” Emilia Sicilia, director of Disability Benefits Advocacy, Mental Health Project at the Urban Justice Center, said in a release from the Empire Justice Center. “Fortunately, the Governor agreed with the legislature and stepped in to address this immediate need.”

“We have a right to our own medical records,” added Richard N. Gottfried, the bill’s sponsor and chair of the Assembly Health Committee. “Paying for hundreds of pages is a barrier to getting public benefits for low-income New Yorkers.”

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Some advocates have pushed to do away with medical record fees altogether, arguing that access is still problematic despite guidance from the Office for Civil Rights.

The state law also comes during a hotly contested debate over information blocking. Last week, the EHR Association said it was “inconceivable” that vendors would knowingly engage in data blocking. The group was responding to a Health Affairs post urging OIG investigators to use HIPAA to crack down on data blocking and improve patient access to medical information.