Governor Cuomo Signs Law Ensuring Free Medical Records

Empire Justice October 30, 2017

Disabled New Yorkers scored an important victory with the passage and enactment of legislation (A7842/S6078) that will streamline the process to obtain medical records needed to support applications for government benefits free of charge. Governor Cuomo signed the bills into law on September 13, 2017.

The legislation amends New York State’s Public Health Law Secs. 17 and 18 and Mental Hygiene Law Sec. 33.16. The laws now clearly state that no charge may be imposed for providing, releasing, or delivering medical records “where requested for the purpose of supporting an application, claim or appeal for any government benefit or program.”  Because the language is clear on its face, there was no need to include additional language restricting the application of the law to specific individuals (i.e., the patient, a representative, a parent, or other qualified person acting on the patient’s behalf). Instead, as long as the purpose of requesting the medical records by any individual is to support an application, claim or appeal for any government benefit or program (including federal, state, county, or local government benefit or program), no charge may be imposed. This applies to records maintained in either electronic or paper form. We recommend that any medical records release contain language to the effect that the records are needed to support an application for government benefits.

If an attorney requests a patient’s medical records on behalf of the patient for the purpose of supporting the patient’s application, claim or appeal for any government benefit or program, no charge may be imposed. It is the patient that benefits from the receipt of the medical records the patient needs to support a claim for government benefits. Medical records are often requested by a patient through counsel. The expense of obtaining medical records is borne by patients; patients generally are required to reimburse their attorneys for such expenditures where, in the past, fee waivers were not granted. The attorney merely acts as an agent of the patient in requesting the records for the patient.

The same holds true if a parent, guardian, social worker or other qualified person acting on the patient’s behalf requests the records on behalf of the patient to assist the patient in filing an application, claim or appeal for benefits. In fact, many patients who need government benefits require the assistance of other individuals to obtain records to support their claims because they are not capable of making the requests directly due to medical or psychiatric conditions.

When disabled New Yorkers have timely access to their medical records, they can submit this evidence with their applications for government benefits such as Social Security disability or SSI. Without this critical evidence, eligible applicants are often denied benefits. With ever increasing wait times for processing appeals in Social Security cases, a denial at the initial stage means claimants go long periods of time without much needed financial assistance, often resulting in housing instability. With this change in the law, many eligible claimants can be expected to get their disability benefits more quickly.

Advocates from the Empire Justice Center, New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), Queens Legal Services and the Urban Justice Center worked collaboratively to draft the new legislation, meet with Assembly sponsor Richard Gottfried and Senate sponsor David Valseky, and move the bill through the legislature.