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More family doctors on Central Coast charging patients annual fe - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

More family doctors on Central Coast charging patients annual fees

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There's a new trend in the world of healthcare. An increasing number of patients on the Central Coast are receiving notices from their primary care physicians about an extra bill.

Doctors are calling it a management or administrative fee and it's often tacking on a couple hundred dollars for patients to pay out of pocket for their existing health coverage.

"The roll out of our new health care system has not been very smooth," said Dr. Michael Shragger, President of Central Coast Family Care.

Dr. Shragger views administration fees as a side effect of much deeper problems in the health care system.

Whether in support of the Affordable Care Act or not, a new poll shows it has had one of the desired effects. Nearly 9 out of 10 Americans now have health insurance as compared to 2010 when only 4 out of 10 were covered.

However, critics say at least one flaw was created along with all the new available plans. 

"The one little piece of that that didn't happen at the end of it was to mandate that the insurance companies pay doctors what they need to pay doctors to take care of their other patients," said Dr. Shragger.

With more people now able to see a doctor, Dr. Shragger says the fees people are seeing are to cover the rising cost of running an office, including paperwork to comply with new government regulations, maintaining medical records and working with insurers.

"I don't have any coworkers that are sitting around with their feet on their desk. They are all working really hard. They are seeing lots of patients, and the system has not made it user friendly for the doctors," said Dr. Shragger.

The extra yearly fee, being charged by some local doctors, ranges from $100 to $300 and is not going unchallenged.

"Parts of our medical care are required to be at no cost to the patient, so the issue of charging a fee just to be a member of a practice when you're using insurance is a legal question," said Dr. Penny Borenstein, Health Officer for the San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department.

Dr. Borenstein says this management fee is being discussed between medical providers and the State Department of Insurance and that there's no clear legality in the books, with each case depending on the person's type of insurance.

"I've heard from a number of people who said, 'I will not pay that on principal,' and I'm sure there are plenty who say, 'this has been my established doctor' and they may not like it, but they pay it anyways," said Dr. Borenstein.

Dr. Shragger believes the fee is just one wrinkle people are seeing in the health care blanket that still needs to be ironed out.

"I like to think that there are some positives wrinkles. More people are insured than ever have been before, but things still need to be fixed," said Dr. Shragger.

It's unclear just how many doctors offices are charging the fee but the number is growing on the Central Coast.

The American Medical Association is warning doctors to pay attention to their insurance contracts to avoid any legal issues and to take into consideration whether a patient can afford any added fees.

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