Asking doctor questions may bring patients fines
Susan Krantz told CBS News that she was confused when she saw additional charges on her latest medical bill. It included an itemized charge of $50.06 for a service she couldn’t figure out.
Upon calling the Minneapolis-based Park Nicollet Health Services, the woman was told that she was charged for asking her doctor too many questions – even though the doctor had welcomed them.
“You can be charged an extra office visit if you ask too many questions,” she told CBS. “I said I don’t understand that, because isn’t that what this visit is for?”
After her doctor asked her if she had any questions, Krantz had relegated a concern she had over a sore hip, which triggered the extra charge.
The health services provider claims that charging for questions is legal because “the insurance company may require that patients pay or make a co-pay for services beyond the ‘preventative’ part of the appointment.” Such charges occur if doctors believe they worked beyond the scope of the visit, according to Nicollet Park. This prevents patients with an “acute matter” from paying a doctor for a less-expensive “wellness” issue.
The issue was further investigated by CBS in Sacramento, Calif. The channel found that nationwide, doctors are increasingly stacking fees onto patients’ bills, charging for services like phone calls with doctors, calling in prescriptions and asking questions.
Patients who haven’t been to their doctor in a while may also be charged a “new patient fee” – even if they stay with the same health care provider. Sacramento resident Doug Rischbieter said the hospital he visited for elbow problems charged him a $164 new patient fee that his insurance refused to cover because he hadn’t been to the hospital in three years.
“That does not seem fair,” said consumer advocate Amy Bach of United Policyholders.
In defense of the charges, the University of California-Davis Medical Center said they are usually covered by insurance.
“Our new patient charge is a fair reflection of the additional time and resources required to get completely up-to-date on a patient who hasn’t been seen in more than three years,” public information officer Charles Casey said. “The charge is common nationwide because it reflects a clinical reality, which is why health insurance typically covers much of this cost as part of a payer’s negotiated contract with providers.”
But since Rischbieter’s insurance does not cover such charges, he is worried he won’t be able to afford paying his bills.
Whether patients ask too many questions or have spent too much time without visiting a hospital, health care across the nation is becoming increasingly more expensive due to hidden fees.
“Piling a fee like that, surprising somebody, is not the way to run a healthy medical services system,” Bach said.