Hospitals slapped with lawsuit for medical records overcharging

Former patients charged thousands for medical record copies
By Erin McCann
11:10 AM
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A group of individuals has slapped two D.C. hospitals with a class action lawsuit, alleging that their charges for requesting medical records -- ranging from $1,168 to $2,500 -- violate state and federal regulations.

Plaintiffs, which include parents who requested the medical records of their child's birth, and another separate former patient, hit MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and The George Washington University Hospital with the lawsuit, filed this month.

They alleged the hospitals collected "illegal and grossly excessive charges" for copies of the patients' medical records, which were collected by a third-party vendor HealthPort.

[See also: Hospitals overcharge med records by $7M.]

According to the lawsuit, when the couple requested an electronic copy of the medical records for their child's birth, they were told they could not receive an electronic copy, only a paper copy and received an invoice for $1,167.88. The fee, as HealthPort delineated, included a per-page copying fee of $0.76 for 1,500 pages; a basic fee of $22.88 and a shipping and handling fee of $16.38.

On a separate occasion, another former patient of the hospital was invoiced $2,481.44, following a request for electronic medical records.

D.C. law, according to the complaint, allows patients to obtain a copy of their medical records "for a reasonable fee" within 30 days of request. Further, federal law requires that if a healthcare provider stores patient records in an electronic format, the patient is "entitled to a copy of those records in electronic format." What's more, the reasonable fee also applies here, but only for the cost of the supplies – paper or CDs, for example – labor for copying and postage.

The plaintiffs' counsel pointed to HIPAA, HITECH and meaningful use and the fact that MedStar and Georgetown both use electronic medical records and should therefore provide requested medical records in an electronic format.

[See also: Charging for data: What is too much?]

Counsel for the hospitals, however, said that federal law did not apply to third-party requests. They also defended the charges set by HealthPort, saying the company worked with KPMG to establish its rates.

This is far from an isolated incident, particularly with this third-party vendor. Just last spring, three big name hospitals were also hit with a similar lawsuit, with HealthPort at the center of it. New York-based Mount Sinai Hospital, Montefiore Medical Group and Beth Israel Medical Center were accused of overcharging patients for copies of their medical records. 

According to the lawsuit, the hospitals and HealthPort overcharged medical records by a whopping $7 million. Clients were charged around $0.75 per page when the incurred costs only calculated to $0.25 per page, they alleged.

"What organizations charge patients for their healthcare information is all over the board," said Kim Murphy-Abdouch, clinical assistant professor at Texas State University, at the 2013 AHIMA conference. "There's a lack of consistency in what patients are charged – from free, to hundreds of dollars."