Those Seeking Medical Care Must Have a Credit Card

Saturday, January 14th, 2012

While most anyone wouldn’t bat an eye at being asked to provide a credit card number when reserving a table at a restaurant or making an appointment at a salon, if would likely feel somewhat jarring to be asked by the receptionist at a doctor’s office for a credit card number in order to hold an appointment. Yet that practice seems to be employed by more and more doctor’s offices these days.

When a doctor asks for a credit card number at the time of scheduling an appointment, it is usually so they can issue a fee if the patient fails to show up or cancels without ample warning. The rule of thumb for canceling is to give a minimum of 24 hours’ advance notice. Some offices are even asking patients to make a down payment on the appointment at the time of scheduling.

Although why does it feel different? According to Kenneth Hertz of the Medical Group Management Association, making an appointment to see a doctor is “No different than an airplane or hotel, if the appointment time comes and the patient isn’t there, that’s lost time — and revenue — forever,” said Hertz, according to The Washington Post.

The Medical Group Management Association, which is a national trade association for medical practice managers, reveals that over 5% of all scheduled medical appointments wind up being missed.

A multitude of medical practices country-wide currently request that the patient provide a credit card number to hold their appointment. This is true of primary-care doctors and specialists. It is far more common for doctors to issue a fee for a missed appointment after the fact instead of charging a deposit at the time when the appointment is made. Medical insurers do not cover cancellation fees. A few plans even forbid doctors from issuing those fees to plan members.

The best thing for patients to do is ask about their doctor’s cancellation policy at the time they call to schedule an appointment. If a patient is unable to make an appointment due to illness, the cancellation fee is generally waived. The American Medical Association supports cancellation fees in their ethics policy but only if practices make their cancellation policies known. Medicare is OK with doctors issuing cancellation fees as long as the same fees are levied upon non-Medicare patients. However, Medicare will not issue payment for those fees and won’t reimburse any cancellation fee amounts to beneficiaries.

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