Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill today that helps individuals with disabilities access their health care records. The bill (HB 1239) allows individuals appealing a Social Security disability benefits decision to order one free copy of their medical record. Columbia Legal Services applauds the work of Representative Pat Sullivan (D-Covington) who sponsored the bill and the Governor on this very important issue.

“This bill will ensure that Washingtonians have the medical record information they need to support their federal disability benefits applications,” said Ann LoGerfo, directing attorney of the Basic Human Needs Project at Columbia Legal Services. “Too many low-income individuals with disabilities cannot access copies of their health care records because they are unable to afford the costly copying and retrieval fees. When the Social Security Administration makes a disability benefits decision based on incomplete medical records, it can cause unnecessary denials which delay the receipt of life-saving disability benefits for these low-income individuals.”

Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income benefits are essential federal benefits available to adults and children with severe disabilities. These monthly benefits are critically important to lifting individuals out of severe poverty, helping provide the financial stability needed for families to become housed, and for individuals to access necessary health care services.

When individuals appeal a Social Security benefits denial, they must provide updated copies of all their medical records. Under current law, health care providers in Washington State can charge $1.17 per page for the first 30 pages of medical records, 88 cents for additional pages, and clerical fees up to $26. This means that individuals appealing a disability benefits decision may have to pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket to access their medical records and provide necessary information for their appeal. This is frequently a prohibitive cost to individuals who are too disabled to work.

With this legislation, individuals appealing a Social Security disability benefits denial will be allowed to request one free copy of their health care information. Washington joins more than sixteen other states that have passed similar legislation.

“Seattle Community Law Center’s clients who live with disabilities and are homeless pay between $60-800 in costs to order medical and mental health evidence to help prove to Social Security that they qualify for benefits,” said Alex Doolittle, Executive Director of Seattle Community Law Center, a nonprofit which provides legal advice and representation to low-income individuals with disabilities on matters related to Social Security benefits. “This change relieves that financial pressure, allowing them to focus their resources on housing and basic needs.”