A common complaint from applicants for Social Security is the sometimes large charges imposed upon them by hospital and physicians in exchange for providing copies of their records. This condition has gradually worsened as more and more hospitals outsource their records departments to companies whose sole purpose is to copy and supply records. Their very existence depends on charging for records up to statutory limits. When a person spends an appreciable amount of time in the hospital they create an enormous amount of paper that must then be supplied to Social Security. Without this paper evidence, a case may be incapable of succeeding, but without money, medical records are frequently withheld. Though every state is different in the way they treat requests for medical records, Georgia is pretty clear. In O.C.G.A. §31-33-3, a fee schedule for medical records copies is laid out succinctly such that provider and document services are limited in what they can charge for duplication. The last sentence of Section (a) if this statute is most relevant, and reads,
“This subsection shall not apply to records requested in order to make or complete an application for a disability benefits program."
This sentence is read in a variety of ways, but in no other portion of the law are fees discussed for copies made in support of a disability benefits program (Workers Compensation DOES have its own fee schedule). I read this sentence to the benefit of my clients, and it appears that courts seem to agree. In the 2008 Georgia Court of Appeals Case, Smart Document Solutions, LLC v. Hall, 290 Ga.App. 483, 659 S.E.2d 838 (Ga.App. 2008), the Court noted at page 485 that “The fee exemption, therefore, includes requests for disability benefits…". This seems to be a clear intent by the Georgia judiciary (and legislature) to ensure that people who are unable to work (and thus are unable to pony up for hundreds of dollars of records) have access to the medical records which may for them unlock health insurance and monthly assistance. Unfortunately, there are overly aggressive or uninformed copy companies that are now attempting to require advance payments before pulling documents. Some examples of these charges include estimates of total pages, and well as “convenience" charges that are levied. In most cases a stern phone call or letter will remove barriers such as this, but it is important to remember that as a Claimant or Practitioner, we have the ability to request that the judge issue a subpoena of the records. Certainly this is a less desirable outcome than simply getting the records, and I have heard anecdotally that some folks are paying the $10 (which comes out of the client’s pocket), but it is important to remember that when companies erect monetary barriers to securing medical records for a Georgia disability applicant, they are breaking the law and violating public policy, plain and simple.