Gretchen Schuldt
Court Watch

Court Rules for Patients on Medical Records

State appeals court says companies cannot overcharge for copies of medical records.

By , Wisconsin Justice Initiative - Nov 23rd, 2020 03:26 pm
Joe Donald. Photo courtesy of Citizen Action of Wisconsin.

Joe Donald. Photo courtesy of Citizen Action of Wisconsin.

Firms that contract with medical providers to handle medical records requests cannot overcharge patients for those records, the State Court of Appeals ruled last week.

The contract firms must follow the same rules that apply to direct medical providers when giving providing the records, the District I Court of Appeals panel said in reviving a class-action lawsuit.

“To allow a third-party to circumvent the statutory limitation on health care providers simply because it does not provide actual health care services would…yield absurd results,” Appeals Judge M. Joseph Donald wrote. He was joined in the decision by Appeals Judges William W. Brash III and Timothy G. Dugan.

State law limits how much medical providers can charge patients for their own medical records. Generally, for paper records, the charges top out at $1 per page; for microfiche or microfilm, the charge is $1.50 per page.

Andrea Townsend filed a class action complaint in 2018 alleging that ChartSwap, which contracted with a radiology practice to handle medical records requests, overcharged for those records. Townsend said that her attorneys, at her request, sought her records after she was in a traffic accident. ChartSwap responded with a bill for $35.87 and provided the records after Townsend’s lawyers paid it.

Townsend alleged in the suit that ChartSwap violated the medical records pricing statute; ChartSwap responded that the statute did not apply because the firm, based in Texas, was not a medical provider but was merely an agent.

Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Paul R. Van Grunsven, relying on an earlier Federal Court decision interpreting Wisconsin law, ruled in ChartSwap’s favor. That Federal Court decision said that state law “does not impose liability on entities that are not health care providers even when they act as agents of health care providers,” Donald noted.

But, he wrote, “the district court’s decision is not binding upon us.”

More importantly, Donald added, the decision “undermines the purpose of (the law) which is to protect patients from being charged excessive fees for access to information in the custody and control of health care providers.”

A different state law also puts the same obligations upon an agent of a principal that are put on the principal, Donald said. “The goal of patient protection would be eviscerated if health care providers could simply contract with parties who were permitted to charge fees of their own liking,” he wrote.

The panel returned the matter to Circuit Court for further action.

Gretchen Schuldt writes a blog for Wisconsin Justice Initiative, whose mission is “To improve the quality of justice in Wisconsin by educating the public about legal issues and encouraging civic engagement in and debate about the judicial system and its operation.”

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