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Governor Signs Law Ensuring Free Access to Health Records for Those in Need

14 Sep, 2017

In a huge win for disabled New Yorkers, a bill (A7842/S6078) that will streamline the process for thousands of New Yorkers needing to obtain their own health records has been signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Accurate and comprehensive health records are needed for applications to Social Security, certain veterans’ benefits, disability-based Medicaid as well as other government programs.  Unfortunately, even though previously existing law prohibited charging people who cannot afford to pay for access to their medical records, complicated processes for determining indigence and outsourcing of record management have made utilization of that law difficult and time-consuming.

Legal Advocates from Empire Justice Center, New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), Queens Legal Services, and Urban Justice Center struggled with this issue for years when advocating on behalf of disabled clients, and worked with Assemblymember and Chair of the Assembly Health Committee Richard Gottfried and Senator David Valesky to develop a solution that would help all parties involved.  The resulting bill was passed at the end of this past legislative session in June.  Recognizing the importance of this common sense legislation, Governor Cuomo signed it into law today.

“We have a right to our own medical records,” said Assembly Health Committee Chair and bill sponsor Richard N. Gottfried.  “Paying for hundreds of pages is a barrier to getting public benefits for low income New Yorkers. I thank the Governor for signing this important legislation.” 

"Low income disabled New Yorkers need to be able to obtain the health records critical to proving their eligibility for benefits," said Louise Tarantino, Senior Attorney for Empire Justice Center. "The signing of this bill into law will not only facilitate the statewide work of Disability Advocacy Program (DAP) representatives on behalf of their disabled clients, it will enable countless disabled New Yorkers and veterans to better advocate for themselves. We applaud the Governor’s recognition that meaningful access to one's own medical history is both reasonable and just.”

When New Yorkers who are disabled have timely access to their own medical records, they can submit strongly supported applications for government benefits, saving time and money. Without these records, eligible applicants are denied. With wait times for appeals of Social Security benefits and Veterans benefits of more than a year, a denial at the application stage often means the difference between keeping or losing your home.

“Navigating the arduous disability appeals process can be especially challenging for those with mental impairments. By improving access to medical records, this law will help prevent unnecessary delay and the wrongful denial of benefits,” said Emilia Sicilia, Director of Disability Benefits Advocacy, Mental Health Project of the Urban Justice Center. “Fortunately, the Governor agreed with the Legislature and stepped in to address this immediate need”.

“We thank Governor Cuomo for signing this legislation into law. Many of our disabled clients do not realize that they have a right to these records, so they would proceed without them, making it harder for them to succeed in their disability claim,” said Ann Biddle, Deputy Director of Queens Legal Services. “With this change in the law we expect them to get their disability benefits more quickly.”

NYLAG applauds Governor Cuomo for signing this bill into law, which clarifies and simplifies access to medical records for vulnerable New Yorkers. Every day our attorneys work with low-income clients who struggle to obtain the fee waivers that are critical to supporting their claims for government benefits,” said Beth Goldman, President and Attorney-in-Charge at the New York Legal Assistance Group. “Providing clear access to free medical records will not only help claimants receive the care they need, it will benefit health care providers by reducing workloads and streamlining processes.”

This law goes into effect immediately.  Here's what the law adds to Mental Hygiene Law § 331 and the Public Health Law.:

"...NO CHARGE  MAY  BE  IMPOSED UNDER THIS SECTION FOR PROVIDING, RELEASING, OR
DELIVERING MEDICAL RECORDS OR COPIES OF MEDICAL RECORDS WHERE  REQUESTED
FOR  THE  PURPOSE  OF SUPPORTING AN APPLICATION, CLAIM OR APPEAL FOR ANY
GOVERNMENT BENEFIT OR PROGRAM, PROVIDED THAT, WHERE A PROVIDER MAINTAINS
MEDICAL RECORDS IN ELECTRONIC FORM, IT SHALL PROVIDE THE COPY IN  EITHER
ELECTRONIC  OR  PAPER  FORM,  AS  REQUIRED  BY THE GOVERNMENT BENEFIT OR
PROGRAM, OR AT THE PATIENT'S REQUEST."

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