Price Gouging  By Bill Vaughn
A Washington company broke Montana law by overcharging
300 hospital patients for copies of their medical records.

IF YOU were a hospital patient in Montana anytime between 2002 and 2007, and you bought copies of your medical records, there’s a pretty good chance you got ripped off.

Until just a few weeks ago Secure Health Information Corporation, the private company that contracts with a number of Treasure State hospitals to produce copies of records, charged patients 83 cents per page. But according to a law that’s been on the books since 2001 “A reasonable fee for providing health care information may not exceed 50 cents for each page for a paper copy or photocopy” (Montana Code Annotated 2001 50-16-540).

Secure Health has been operating in Montana since 2002. The company has contracts with medical facilities in seven other states, as well, including Texas, Arizona and Illinois.

We asked Chris Moore, Secure’s vice president for operations, how many medical facilities in Montana his company services, but he declined to answer. However, we learned that Secure contracts with at least four major hospitals in the state—St. Pat’s and Community in Missoula, St. Vincent’s in Billings, and Benefis Healthcare in Great Falls, the largest hospital in the Montana.

Following a March 13, 2007 article in the Missoula, Montana Missoulian about Secure Health's illegal practices, Moore told the newspaper that his company overcharged about 300 patients in Montana a total of around $2300. Moore said the company is working to issue refunds for those overcharges. His figures, however, don't include the many thousands of pages of records Secure Health sold to insurance companies and lawyers.

Mr. Moore said that “the rates charged to patients were set by our individual clients per contract.” In January of 2007 Secure brought its prices into compliance with Montana state law.

This price change followed a complaint we lodged in 2006 with the office of Mike McGrath, Montana’s Attorney General at the time. Although Secure was in clear violation of Montana law McGrath declined to directly involve his office in the matter. However, a couple months after our complaint we were contacted by his office and advised to share our story with the Licensing Bureau in the Montana Department of Health and Human Services. In early January the Bureau called the corporate headquarters of Secure Health in Belleview, Washington, and schooled them about Montana law. Secure immediately brought its prices into compliance with the statute.

As for the responsibility of Montana’s medical facilities to oversee their subcontractors, Deb Bakker, the health information manager for Community Hospital in Missoula, told us that patients who have a problem with the cost of medical records should deal with Secure, not the hospital.

To contact Secure Health Information Corporation, write them at PO Box 52930 Bellevue, Washington 98015-2930, or call them toll free at 877.328.7344 or email them at info@securehealthinfo.com