The 2011-13 state budget has made it more expensive for attorneys — and, by extension, their clients — to request some standard medical data.
The budget, signed into law in June, increased fees attorneys must pay for medical record requests from a flat rate of 35 cents per page to $1 per page for the first 25 pages, 75 cents per page for pages 26-50, 50 cents per page for pages 51-100, and 30 cents per page for pages 101 and beyond.
The charges, which are relatively small in the context of overall attorney fees, can nickel and dime clients, especially on routine cases such as those involving slips and falls.
“Unfortunately, what it does is it increases the burden on individuals who have claims where medical records would be smaller,” said Kevin Martin, a personal injury lawyer with Brookfield-based Cannon & Dunphy SC.
“As the number of medical requests increases,” he said, “it may average out to what the cost was prior to the revision of the state statute, but it causes those individuals who have smaller claims to bear a higher burden of the expense of successfully prosecuting their case.”
The fees even out and become cheaper, though, as the requested documents become more complex. For example, a 1,000-page medical record would have cost $350 before July 1, but now costs $333.75.
Higher costs, Martin said, would apply to the most routine cases.
“It’s unlikely,” he said, “it would apply to the majority of more complex cases, such as medical malpractice cases or auto accident cases.”
The state Department of Health Services set the rates health systems and third-party administrators could charge for medical records until the 2009-11 budget bill transferred that authority to the Legislature.
That change marked an improvement for attorneys, said Jeff Pitman, a personal injury lawyer for Pitman, Kyle, Sicula & Dentice SC, because the DHS allowed fees to fluctuate often.
“The number was put into the statute, so there wasn’t any question about it anymore,” Pitman said. “We weren’t waiting for a government bureaucrat to figure it out. It was in the statute and everything was hunky-dory.”
The new fee scale, though, reintroduced confusion into the process, Pitman said.
“Every personal injury attorney has a volume of cases in which somebody has gone to the emergency room or gone to a primary care provider and the records aren’t going to go on for a hundred pages,” Pitman said. “If it’s an emergency room visit, and doesn’t involve fractures or surgeries, you’re probably looking at 20 pages or less.”
The increased expense, Pitman said, “is not astronomical, but it’s higher than the number that was in there.”