On February 17, 2009, the unheralded Health Information Technology Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was signed into law. It is meant to promote the adoption and meaningful use of health information technology.

Why is this important to Social Security disability attorneys? When we build your case, we will need to review and submit the medical records for your disability to a judge. Even if you’ve previously submitted records to the Social Security Administration, our attorneys, in order to become very familiar with your case, need to document the full extent of your injuries or disability.

In the past, we have asked clients to sign a medical records release consent form, which would be used to request records from your different healthcare providers. The healthcare provider would process that request, photocopying dozens and even hundreds of pages of your medical records. They would then bill us for all parts of the production process, including a search fee, a retrieval fee, a per-page copying fee, and a shipping fee. It is not uncommon for a single set of records to cost hundreds of dollars to obtain when billed according to this scheme.

Many healthcare providers have opted to use a third party copying service to fulfill medical records requests. Some of these companies provide records via both fax and post, meaning they fulfill the request in a timely fashion by first faxing or emailing the electronic records, and then mailing paper copies that we do not need. Even though the FAX or email is quick and inexpensive, many of these companies still charge the record requester (us) exorbitant fees to provide patient records. In one memorable instance, a CD was sent to us with a bill for over six hundred dollars. The bill was based on the theoretical cost of photocopying and mailing paper records, even though that was never done. Nowadays, most health care providers maintain electronic records. When you go to a doctor’s office, you most likely see a computer in each examining room. Rarely do you see a doctor making notes in a chart with pen and paper. Even those who maintain paper charts have usually scanned the pertinent information into electronic files. These records are easily transportable; one only needs to burn them to a CD and mail it, or fax or email them to the requester. Neither option involves much in the way of labor or materials.

The HITECH Act addresses the price gouging that records requesters have struggled with to get patient records to submit in Social Security disability claims. HITECH states that the healthcare provider can only charge a reasonable, cost-based fee that includes the cost of labor for copying the records, supplies for creating the electronic media (the cost of a CD), and postage. No longer can a healthcare provider or its records contractor legally assess a per-page copying charge for electronic records. Your HITECH Records Requests direct your healthcare providers to release your records to us at actual cost within 30 days of receiving your instruction.

We don’t expect this to be a popular change with healthcare providers; copying records has turned into a moneymaking business for many doctors’ offices and hospitals. We do anticipate resistance, but we are willing to work with that because in the long run we hope to streamline the process, increase efficiency by shortening turnaround time, and ultimately do our small part to help lower the cost of healthcare.