New Law Streamlines Access to Medical Records for Disabled New Yorkers

On September 13, 2017, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that will ensure vulnerable low-income New Yorkers access to their medical records. The new bill will simplify and clarify the process of providing medical records to indigent New Yorkers. There is a pre-existing law that prohibits charging a fee to people who cannot afford to pay to access their medical records. However, complicated processes for determining indigency and the outsourcing of record management delayed the retrieval of these documents in practice. If a healthcare provider does not deem a patient unable to pay, then the health care provider can charge a patient a fee up to $0.75 per page, which becomes prohibitively expensive for voluminous records. The new bill amends New York’s Public Health Law and Mental Hygiene Law to require health care providers to provide medical records at no charge to any individual applying for government benefits. Health care providers must send the records in either paper or electronic form when requested by either the State or the patient.

There is a crucial need for low income disabled New Yorkers to obtain their medical records in a timely manner. Applications for Social Security, certain Veterans’ benefits, disability-based Medicaid, and other government programs require accurate and comprehensive medical records. The delay in obtaining medical records forces some applicants to apply without them. Submitting applications without the required medical reports can lead otherwise eligible applicants to be denied crucial benefits. The wait time for appeals can be more than a year, which can be detrimental to applicants awaiting the appeal process without any benefits to support them.

The signing of the bill also facilitates the statewide work of the Disability Advocacy Project (DAP) representatives on behalf of their disabled clients.  DAP is a program under the New York Legal Assistance Group that works to ensure that disabled individuals receive benefits under both the Social Security Disability Insurance Program (SSDI) and the Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI). The program provides free legal advice and representation for people who have been denied, or wrongfully terminated from, SSDI and SSI benefits. The prevention of unnecessary delay and wrongful denial of benefits will reduce the workload and streamline the process for programs representatives, which will lead to more efficient and effective services.

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