OCR Enforcing Limits on Medical Records Fees

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has published new information emphasizing patient right of access to records, along with fees that may be charged for printed and electronic copies.  It stresses that medical records fees must be cost-based and reasonable.

The Privacy Rule permits a covered entity to impose a reasonable, cost-based fee to provide the individual (or the individual’s personal representative) with a copy of the individual’s PHI, or to direct the copy to a designated third party. The fee may include only the cost of certain labor, supplies, and postage as outlined below in a direct quotation of the OCR:

A covered entity may include reasonable labor costs associated only with the: (1) labor for copying the PHI requested by the individual, whether in paper or electronic form; and (2) labor to prepare an explanation or summary of the PHI, if the individual in advance both chooses to receive an explanation or summary and agrees to the fee that may be charged.

For example, labor for copying may include labor associated with the following, as necessary to copy and deliver the PHI in the form and format and manner requested or agreed to by the individual:

  • Photocopying paper PHI.
  • Scanning paper PHI into an electronic format.
  • Converting electronic information in one format to the format requested by or agreed to by the individual.
  • Transferring (e.g., uploading, downloading, attaching, burning) electronic PHI from a covered entity’s system to a web-based portal (where the PHI is not already maintained in or accessible through the portal), portable media, e-mail, app, personal health record, or other manner of delivery of the PHI.
  • Creating and executing a mailing or e-mail with the responsive PHI

While we allow labor costs for these limited activities, we note that as technology evolves and processes for converting and transferring files and formats become more automated, we expect labor costs to disappear or at least diminish in many cases.

In contrast, labor for copying does not include labor costs associated with:

  • Reviewing the request for access.
  • Searching for, retrieving, and otherwise preparing the responsive information for copying.  This includes labor to locate the appropriate designated record sets about the individual, to review the records to identify the PHI that is responsive to the request and to ensure the information relates to the correct individual, and to segregate, collect, compile, and otherwise prepare the responsive information for copying.

Further, while the Privacy Rule permits the limited fee described above, covered entities should provide individuals who request access to their information with copies of their PHI free of charge.  While covered entities should forgo fees for all individuals, not charging fees for access is particularly vital in cases where the financial situation of an individual requesting access would make it difficult or impossible for the individual to afford the fee.  Providing individuals with access to their health information is a necessary component of delivering and paying for health care. We will continue to monitor whether the fees that are being charged to individuals are creating barriers to this access, will take enforcement action where necessary, and will reassess as necessary the provisions in the Privacy Rule that permit these fees to be charged.

For complete information regarding limits on medical records fees, refer to the article on page two of the July issue of the American Practice Advisor® titled “OCR Emphasizes Limits on Medical Records Fees.”