On Monday May 23rd, 2016, Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a clarification to a FAQ published February 25th, 2016 regarding reasonable fees allowed to be charged pertaining to a patient’s “right to access” their health information under HIPAA. Through the clarification, there is no longer a $6.50 maximum charge for providing an electronic copy of health information to a patient.
Under the previous guidance, HHS gave three means to charge patients for a copy of their protected health information (PHI): charge an average cost, charge the actual cost or charge a flat fee. However, the previous FAQ indicated that if a patient requested an electronic copy of their health information being maintained electronically (such as within an EHR), the maximum allowable charge for any method was $6.50.
The $6.50 cap caused distress for many entities, as this figure contained all allowable labor and material costs (such as producing the information on a CD or USB drive). As Covered Entities and Business Associates argued, their actual cost for providing a proper copy of electronic health information electronically typically exceeds $6.50, causing the organizations to absorb the additional costs in an era where healthcare practices are already overburdened with increasing fees to keep up with healthcare reform. In a letter sent to OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels on April 20th, 2016, The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) echoed these concerns, stating “HIM departments may be unable to cover the costs associated with providing such information.
It seems HHS heard the outcry of AHIMA and other healthcare entities. Per the new FAQ clarification, Covered Entities and Business Associates are not limited to a $6.50 maximum charge for providing an electronic copy of health information. Healthcare organizations may charge the actual allowable cost of producing records or organizations may use a schedule of average allowable costs for producing records. But this $6.50 figure is not totally gone for good — if an organization would like to forego these two prior cost options, they may use a flat $6.50 maximum fee for an electronic copy of health information under “Right to Access.”