Dr's visit could have extra fees

HOUSTON It's a stress test for the doctor and it started with Medicare cuts in January. Reimbursements for common stress tests and a heart scan were cut by up to a third. The impact for the Woodlands North Houston Heart Center was immediate.

Dr. Aquino said, "We closed one of our three offices and had to lay off staff at the first of the year."

That's why they decided to charge $5 for phone-in prescription refills, $10 for work releases, $25 for letters to insurance companies and $25 for family leave forms.

"We hate to go doing things that seem so trivial and silly," Dr. Aquino said. "At the same time, we have already laid off five employees."

Dr. Aquino says the fees keep them from laying off more.

He said, "So many things, small tasks we do literally for free, and the time has come we have to recoup for those efforts."

The Stone Creek Family Medicine Clinic's website says the Montgomery practice charges a $45 annual fee and $90 for families. Some doctors are charging much more.

"I'm sad," said Dr. Michael Speer. "I understand why they're having to do this. It just makes me sad they're having to. "

Dr. Speer, the Texas Medical Association's Chairman of the Board of Trustees, says expect more fees like these.

He said, "You'll see added charges for paperwork from physicians who say they can't do it on their own anymore."

"People assume that physicians made up the difference by seeing more volume," said Dr. Aquino. "We're seeing about as many patients as possible and still working 12 hour days minimum."

"I don't think they should be charging for it," said one patient we spoke with. "I'm not for any of this."

Donna Clifford, whose husband is a patient, disagreed.

She said, "Paperwork and all this takes time. Why not charge for their time? Why do it for free? So I don't have a problem with any of those charges."

Dr. Aquino said, "Ninety-nine percent of our patients have said, 'Doctor, we understand why you're doing this. You don't even have to get into it.' We've had one or two individuals complain."

Dr. Aquino says they don't charge for overnight phone calls.

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