How can covered entities calculate the limited fee that can be charged to individuals to provide them with a copy of their PHI?
The HIPAA Privacy Rule permits a covered entity to charge a reasonable, cost-based fee for individuals (or their personal representatives) to receive (or direct to a third party) a copy of the individuals’ PHI. In addition to being reasonable, the fee may include only certain labor, supply, and postage costs that may apply in providing the individual with the copy in the form and format and manner requested or agreed to by the individual. The following methods may be used, as specified below, to calculate this fee.
- Actual costs. A covered entity may calculate actual labor costs to fulfill the request, as long as the labor included is only for copying (and/or creating a summary or explanation if the individual chooses to receive a summary or explanation) and the labor rates used are reasonable for such activity. The covered entity may add to the actual labor costs any applicable supply (e.g., paper, or CD or USB drive) or postage costs. Covered entities that charge individuals actual costs based on each individual access request still must be prepared to inform individuals in advance of the approximate fee that may be charged for providing the individual with a copy of her PHI. An example of an actual labor cost calculation would be to time how long it takes for the workforce member of the covered entity (or business associate) to make and send the copy in the form and format and manner requested or agreed to by the individual and multiply the time by the reasonable hourly rate of the person copying and sending the PHI. What is reasonable for purposes of an hourly rate will vary depending on the level of skill needed to create and transmit the copy in the manner requested or agreed to by the individual (e.g., administrative level labor to make and mail a paper copy versus more technical skill needed to convert and transmit the PHI in a particular electronic format).
- Average costs. In lieu of calculating labor costs individually for each request, a covered entity can develop a schedule of costs for labor based on average labor costs to fulfill standard types of access requests, as long as the types of labor costs included are the ones which the Privacy Rule permits to be included in a fee (e.g., labor costs for copying but not for search and retrieval) and are reasonable. Covered entities may add to that amount any applicable supply (e.g., paper, or CD or USB drive) or postage costs.
- This standard rate can be calculated and charged as a per page fee only in cases where the PHI requested is maintained in paper form and the individual requests a paper copy of the PHI or asks that the paper PHI be scanned into an electronic format. Per page fees are notpermitted for paper or electronic copies of PHI maintained electronically. OCR is aware that per page fees in many cases have become a proxy for fees charged for all types of access requests – whether electronic or paper – and that many states with authorized fee structures have not updated their laws to account for efficiencies that exist when generating copies of information maintained electronically. This practice has resulted in fees being charged to individuals for copies of their PHI that do not appropriately reflect the permitted labor costs associated with generating copies from information maintained in electronic form. Therefore, OCR does not consider per page fees for copies of PHI maintained electronically to be reasonable for purposes of 45 CFR 164.524(c)(4).
- Flat fee for electronic copies of PHI maintained electronically. A covered entity may charge individuals a flat fee for all requests for electronic copies of PHI maintained electronically, provided the fee does not exceed $6.50, inclusive of all labor, supplies, and any applicable postage. Charging a flat fee not to exceed $6.50 is therefore an option for entities that do not want to go through the process of calculating actual or average allowable costs for requests for electronic copies of PHI maintained electronically.