Added fees to cover malpractice upset patients

CLEVELAND (AP) - Some patients have been surprised by a medical fee they say was added to help pay for doctors' malpractice insurance.
Sharon Forsch, 59, a retired preschool teacher, said she was billed an extra $30 by her doctor for her annual cervical-cancer screening at Beachwood OB GYN Inc. in the suburb of Lyndhurst.
She has refused to pay the fee, which is not covered by her
insurance.
Dr. Steven Klein, one of Beachwood OB GYN's four owners, said the charge was unrelated to the cost of malpractice insurance.
However, Dr. Kevin Geraci, president of the Academy of Medicine Cleveland/Northern Ohio Medical Association, said local doctors consider the fee "specifically a malpractice charge."
Cleveland-area obstetricians typically paid from $74,000 to
$152,000 last year for malpractice coverage, up from $32,000 to $69,000 in 2000, according to Medical Liability Monitor, a publication that tracks the rates.
Doctors lobbied successfully last year to have a cap put on
malpractice insurance costs in Ohio. The cap takes effect in April.
When Forsch went for her annual cervical-cancer screening, she expected to be charged her normal $10 co-pay. But, a clerical worker pointed out a sign saying the practice was charging a $30 "practice administration fee."
"It's a big problem, and I understand that," Forsch said.

But she said "that it's just wrong" for doctors to add the fee. Forsch paid the $10 co-pay, but refused to pay the surcharge.

The office continues to bill her.
"I still believe that doctors aren't hurting financially,
compared to, say, retired teachers," Forsch said.
Yet Forsch said an office assistant told her the doctors "just can't afford to practice without that fee."
Her health insurance doesn't cover the fee, but her insurer, Medical Mutual of Ohio, said that its customers don't have to pay the charge because it's a violation of its contract with doctors.
A doctor that added a charge "would be violating his agreement with Medical Mutual," said Michael Taddeo, the vice president who negotiates the company's contracts. "The patient would not have to pay any add-ons to that bill."
State Medical Board of Ohio spokeswoman Lauren Lubow said the board is already looking into a patient's complaint about a malpractice surcharge.
Charles Inlander, the president of the People's Medical Society, a consumer-rights group in Pennsylvania, said that insurance companies are not going to cover the charges and that patients shouldn't be left with the bill.
"Any consumer who's confronted with this should go to another doctor," Inlander said, "because they certainly don't have a doctor who's working in their best interest."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)