Julio Fuentes: When the Legislature Sets Fees in Statute, It Must Consider All Affected Parties Before Changing Them

Let’s start from the beginning and why the public should be interested in something that may not seem so interesting on the surface. We, as Floridians, read about our lawmakers and perhaps contact them with concerns that directly affect our community. We hopefully vote during election time and make those decisions based on what we read and how engaged we are in our community.

What we may not see is all the hard and detailed work the Florida Legislature and state agencies conduct daily to provide a multitude of services and regulations for our state. We understand the basics but how does it impact our daily lives?

The Florida Legislature and executive regulatory agencies set certain parameters around fees that companies can charge for specific services. Where the rubber meets the road is when those fees determine whether a company can continue to provide said services under the fee limitations.

This would mean the livelihood of Florida citizens, jobs and their families who have come to rely upon those statutory fees, especially if the fees are not given strict scrutiny and set at an appropriate and survivable rate for services. Additionally, the Florida Legislature requires state agencies undergo cost estimates when they adopt a rule setting fees for services. This can directly impact companies, jobs, families and the economy.

For example, the services for the request of medical records. There are more than 14,000 health information management professionals in Florida working to ensure the privacy of our medical records. Not to mention the many supportive organizations that advocate to protect patient privacy in their medical records.

These professionals specialize in managing patient health information and medical records, administering computer information systems and coding the diagnoses and procedures for health care services provided to patients.

They commit to timely and accurate collection of health information and its maintenance, storage, retention and disclosure. This ensures such information is kept private, secure and in accordance with federal and state laws.

We as patients typically do not pay for our medical records. Doctors share information without us having to worry about it and at no cost to us.

When people use the medical records for possible financial gain, for example, trial attorneys requesting medical records for a personal injury or malpractice lawsuit, they are required to pay a fee obtain them.

The reason for a fee is to ensure that only the records authorized to be released by the patient are provided to a private entity, like a law firm. In order to compensate the people responsible for protecting patient privacy and ensuring timely disclosures, these third parties are charged a fee for the labor, supplies and materials.

The fees set by the Legislature and state agencies for hospital records requested by trial attorneys and other similar third parties are governed by state law. In Florida the fee is $1.00 per page.

Currently, at the legislative level, trial attorneys are fighting against paying their fair share in fees. They are also skirting the system and asking their client (a patient) to request their medical records, so it will be less costly for their lawsuit. Can you imagine the demand and quantity for class action lawsuits requesting medical records from all clients erstwhile ensuring patient protection?

We understand trial attorneys need their client’s medical records for various lawsuits. But providing such records is costly and time-consuming for medical record companies.

Protecting our medical records takes highly qualified and trained staff. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) has many requirements that must be followed to protect our records and that takes time, focus and cooperative efforts, which costs money. The fees do not come from patient requests, but rather third-party requests.

If this fee structure is greatly reduced or eliminated by the Florida Legislature, the cost for protecting patient privacy will fall back on the patients in the form of higher fees for medical services. It will also risk the contributions the industry provides and increase health care costs falling on the medical community and us.

Medical record services are crucial for our state and the fees should be considered as such.  This is one example of our legislature protecting us from losing important services, jobs and protecting our community. Without consideration of these important services, we could be looking at paying these fees out-of-pocket or through higher fees forced onto our health care providers.

Let’s encourage our elected officials, especially those in leadership roles, to continue to keep a close eye on these types of fees and remember why they are a crucial service to the safety of our medical records and to Florida’s economy.

 

Julio Fuentes is the president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

 

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