I often have clients ask me how much their medical records will cost, or relay to me concerns that their doctor’s office told them that the records can be expensive. Many places charge you $0.10 per page of records, as well as “reasonable administrative fees.” When records stretch into hundreds (in some cases, thousands!) of pages, these can become very costly. Or can they?
The answer, like most things in disability law, is a bit nuanced. However, California residents are generally able to take advantage of California’s very patient-friendly laws. In particular, California Health & Safety Code Section 123110, which states, in a nutshell, that no medical provider can charge you for your medical records when those records are needed for a public benefit appeal. In other words, when you have a hearing pending for your Social Security disability benefits, and you go to request your medical records, the provider cannot charge you one red cent for them in advance. This is because these public benefits are often sought by people in serious financial distress, and these people many times cannot afford the hundreds of dollars that medical records can ultimately cost. It would not be in the public benefit to tell people that they need to have medical treatment records in order to obtain benefits, but then require them to have money (in effect, to already have benefits) to afford to get those treatment records. That’s a Catch-22 that would prevent many people from winning their cases that really and truly deserve it.
Now, there are a few caveats to Health & Safety Code Section 123110: first, your attorney (if you are represented) cannot front any medical costs to you. This is to prevent the provision from being used by greedy attorneys who want to save a few bucks in their multi-million dollar lawsuit. Because attorney’s fees are limited and regulated by federal law in disability claims, most attorneys will not pay out-of-pocket costs for things like medical records (which means that, under the Health & Safety Code provision, your records are free). Second, the medical provider can bill you for “reasonable administrative costs” AFTER you have succeeded in your disability claim (that is, after you’ve won). And third, the number of requests you can make of each provider are limited; you can’t ask for free records every month. For that reason, I generally advise people to only make record requests once a year.
Of course, the actual application of the law is a bit more difficult than this, and a blog post should never be construed as legal advice. You might believe you’re eligible under the law when in fact you are not, and vice versa. No amount of Googling will be the same as actually speaking to an attorney, which I strongly advise that you do if you are considering filing for Social Security disability, or have already filed. But with a good attorney willing to fight, you could save hundreds of dollars in costs at a time when every penny counts as you’re waiting for your benefits.