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For New Yorkers, Medical Record Access Becomes Simpler

September 22, 2017
by Rajiv Leventhal
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The process for New Yorkers to obtain their medical records will now become much more streamlined, thanks to new legislation signed by the state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo.

The bill, which was originally introduced by Sen. David Velasky (D-N.Y.), aims to clarify and simplify access to medical records for “vulnerable” New Yorkers—such as low-income and disabled residents who need accurate and comprehensive health records so they can send applications in for Social Security, certain veterans’ benefits, disability-based Medicaid as well as other government programs.

According to a press release from the Empire Justice Center, “Unfortunately, even though previously existing law prohibited charging people who cannot afford to pay for access to their medical records, complicated processes for determining indigence and outsourcing of record management have made utilization of that law difficult and time-consuming.” The release noted that legal Advocates from Empire Justice Center, New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), Queens Legal Services, and Urban Justice Center have struggled with this issue for years when advocating on behalf of disabled clients.

Previously, providers were allowed to charge 75 cents per page for medical record access, but if a patient was unable to pay that amount, he or she should not have not been denied access, according to prior legislation. But, according to the sponsors of the new bill, “Current law does provide free access; however, the fee waiver is routinely ignored and is poorly enforced. Patients are denied free access for reasons such as medical providers do not tell patients that the fee may be waived, provider forms for requesting copies do not include fee waiver sections, complicated processes for determining patient indegence, and outsourcing of copying to companies that do not understand or enforce fee waiver protections.”

As such, this legislation amends public health law and mental hygiene law to prohibit a charge from being imposed for providing, releasing, or delivering medical records that are used to support the application of a government benefit or program.

“We have a right to our own medical records,” said Assembly Health Committee Chair and bill sponsor Richard N. Gottfried.  “Paying for hundreds of pages is a barrier to getting public benefits for low income New Yorkers. I thank the Governor for signing this important legislation.” 

Added Louise Tarantino, senior attorney for Empire Justice Center, "Low income disabled New Yorkers need to be able to obtain the health records critical to proving their eligibility for benefits. The signing of this bill into law will not only facilitate the statewide work of Disability Advocacy Program (DAP) representatives on behalf of their disabled clients, it will enable countless disabled New Yorkers and veterans to better advocate for themselves. We applaud the governor’s recognition that meaningful access to one's own medical history is both reasonable and just.”

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