About four months ago, I received a letter from my doctor informing me that his office was implementing an “Annual Administrative Fee” of $39. According to the letter, “insurance pre-authorizations, insurance filings, prescription refill requests, prior approvals and maintenance of medical records are all adding additional costs to providing healthcare.” The letter then instructed me to send in $39 to ensure uninterrupted medical service.
My mind instantly rebelled against the notion that my doctor was now, basically, trying to charge me for storing my medical records. Since I’m a cash-paying patient with no insurance, why should I have to pay for insurance pre-authorizations and insurance filings? The Annual Administrative fee seems like a bogus excuse to bring in a little extra cash for the doctor’s practice. Anyway, aren’t these things covered by the cost of my visits? They always have been before. Why start charging for them now? I mean, I’ve always assumed that showing up for my 11:00 appointment and not seeing the doctor until 2:00 was part of the cost of seeing a doctor. Should I reciprocate and send him a bill for the all the times I’ve shown up promptly for an appointment I set weeks earlier, and then sat in the waiting room for two or three hours before getting to see him?
I have to wonder, why don’t they just raise the cost of an office visit by a few dollars per patient, instead of charging a separate fee? I can accept that a doctor would need to raise the price of an office visit occasionally, and I would pay the price. But this “Annual Administrative fee” has the same smell as a bank seeking new ways to wring money from a customer, such as an ATM transaction fee or any of the other well-known money-grabs banks seem to constantly spring on customers. We’ve come to expect this sort of thing from banks. But from a doctor? Doctors are generally looked upon as people of high character, people we trust with our most private physical and psychological issues. In my mind, this fee taints the image of the doctor as an outstanding member of the community, a role model. I just never expected doctors to stoop to this sort of “fee.” It doesn’t smell right to me.
If he’d just tell me he’s raising the cost of a visit, that’s fine. I can handle that and will pay the new price. But the “Annual Administrative fee” is too contrived for me to swallow. And when I do a search on the internet, I find a few posts from other people being subjected to this, clear across the country from me. They quote from the letters they received from their doctors. And those letters are word-for-word copies of my own letter. That indicates that this is a trend that is sweeping the medical community. Doctors are using the same form letter that they’ve borrowed from somewhere, and they’re passing it on to their colleagues, who are quickly jumping onto the bandwagon. So you can bet that it won’t be long before you, dear reader, are hit with this bogus fee.
I haven’t yet paid the fee. I refuse, because I don’t regard this as a legitimate fee. I’ve been ignoring the barrage of follow-up bills, telling me I’m 30 days overdue, and now 60 days overdue. The most recent letters were telling me that my account was going into collections. Finally, today, I received a letter on bright red paper. It informed me that if I don’t pay the fee within 30 days, my doctor’s practice “is withdrawing from further professional attendance” upon me.
So it’s come to a showdown between me and my doctor. Who will blink first? All this over some ridiculous new fee.
I like my doctor; he’s a nice guy. But, if he’s willing to let patients go over this fee, I guess I need to be willing to move on. Hopefully I’ll like my new doctor.