Arguments before the state Supreme Court in a case that is set to determine whether pharmacists have been overcharging attorneys for records focused on the 1998 amendments to the Medical Records Act, attorneys who attended the argument session said.
During the argument session for Landay v. Rite Aid, which was held April 8 in Pittsburgh, the justices focused their questions on the legislative intent behind the use of the phrases “health care provider” and “patient” in the amendment, according to Pittsburgh attorney James M. Pietz, who argued before the court on behalf of the plaintiffs. The amendment outlined a price schedule governing the cost of records.
Pietz said he argued that the General Assembly’s intent to have the term “health care provider” include pharmacists was clear.
“The common usage of that term includes a pharmacist,” Pietz said. “They certainly provide treatment and care for diseases and illnesses. They’re at the heart of the health care community. They’ve been recognized as health care providers since the 1960s and the beginning of the Pharmacy Act.”
By not specifically including definitions of the terms in the MRA, Pietz said, the legislature showed its intent to have the broad usage of the meaning apply.
Counsel for Rite Aid, however, argued that “health care provider” was a term of art, referring specifically to the governing body that operates a hospital or health care facility. Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis attorney Carl Solano represented Rite Aid.
“None of those changes evidences an intent to broaden the statute to the wide range of ‘health care providers,’ including pharmacies, that would be covered by plaintiffs’ definition,” Solano said in the reply brief he filed on behalf of Rite Aid. “Legislative exclusion of pharmacies from ‘health care providers’ was especially prevalent in and before 1998 because, under the Pharmacy Act at the time, the ‘practice of pharmacy’ did not include treating patients.”
The amendment was made to ensure that the increasing number of merging health care providers continued to provide patients fair and cost-effective access to their medical records, but, the plaintiffs argued, the restrictive definition that Rite Aid asked the court to apply would inappropriately exclude both pharmacists and doctors from the act.
“We think the ability of a patient to get access to their records, whoever they are, is critically important,” Pietz said. “More and more with the computerization of medical data, it’s important for people to have broad access to medical records.”
The plaintiffs asked the high court to adopt the reasoning outlined in the state Superior Court’s March 2012 decision, which found that pharmacists were included in the definition of health care providers because they can administer injectable medication and provide other care to patients.
The Superior Court’s ruling renewed a class action brought by attorneys who alleged they were overcharged by Rite Aid when the pharmacy charged a flat fee of $50 each time a person’s pharmacy records were requested.
David M. Landay and law firm Patberg Carmody & Ging argued the charge was excessive under the copying costs outlined by the MRA. The pharmacy argued, and the trial court agreed when it dismissed the suit, that the MRA did not apply to pharmacies because a customer of a pharmacy was not a “patient.”
The MRA does not define “patient,” “medical charts and records” or “health care provider or facility.”
Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Senior Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. said the MRA’s use of the word “patient” governs only people who would, under the ordinary usage of the term, describe themselves as patients.
Wettick said a person receiving services from a psychologist would describe himself as a patient, but a person receiving services from a licensed yoga instructor would not refer to himself as a patient. He said the latter is akin to the relationship between someone prescribed medication and the pharmacist who provides it.
Rite Aid agreed with Wettick, arguing that, in 1998, pharmacists were limited to filling prescriptions and did not provide the treatment they do today.
Solano said in Rite Aid’s brief that the Superior Court and plaintiffs mix “together functions performed by pharmacists at the time and their more extensive functions today.”