How to Get a Doctor’s Bill When You Don’t Go to the Doctor

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Got health insurance? Good for you. But your insurance probably won’t cover a range of fees that some doctors now charge—including fees for filling out school forms, vague administrative fees of sometimes over $100 a year, and up to $50 if you have an appointment and don’t show up.

Doctors justify these fees with the explanation that there are plenty of services that insurance does not reimburse them for, reports USA Today. For example:

Allen Greenlee, an internist in Washington, sent a letter in March to 7,000 patients in his group practice asking for a voluntary $35 annual administrative fee for costs insurance didn’t cover. He said he got only two angry letters and dozens paid extra to help others. “I’m trying to stay solvent,” he said.

A voluntary fee? Doesn’t seem like this is a component of a smart business plan, though I can understand why doctors would want to give it a shot. The doctors I know hate dealing with insurance companies as much as patients do.

Still, consumers pay a ton of money for insurance, and most pay it with the assumption—or perhaps it’s more of a desperate hope—that they aren’t going to later be nickel and dimed for medical-related costs. They pay for insurance once a month or have the money siphoned out of their paychecks with the idea that they’re getting a package deal. And they pay for insurance specifically so they won’t have to incur costs later, and hopefully that includes costs that are big or little.

So basically, while these fees are small potatoes compared to what most of us pay for insurance, these charges are annoying. And come to think of it, I’ve paid quite a few of them. We’ve definitely been asked to pay for doctors to fill out school forms for our kids. And when we moved a couple of years ago, we had to pay more than $50 to get photocopies of our kids’ medical records from the pediatrician. Which to me, sounded (and still sounds) nuts: Aren’t they our family’s records?

The larger point is: If patients must pay ungodly sums for health insurance, then one would hope that the whole of the doctor’s service and all facets of the “doctor’s visit” experience would be covered. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, which is why I agree with this woman quoted in the USA Today piece:

Susan Wheeler, 33, said her kids’ pediatrician near Atlanta recently started a $10-per-child form fee. “I don’t like it,” she said. “It’s part of their job.”