Messaging your doctor may cost you at some Minnesota hospitals and clinics

Connecting with your doctor has become as simple as sending a text message using portals like MyChart, but those direct messages could soon cost more than your co-pay.

On Tuesday, Allina Health alerted patients that starting in December, medical messaging about a new issue or symptom requiring an assessment or referral would cost $49, billed to insurance or directly to the patient. Chronic disease check-ins, medication adjustments and orders for labs or imaging could also be subject to the charge.

Messages pertaining to a recent visit (within seven days), scheduling an appointment, medical-related forms, or prescription refill requests will remain free.

Allina Health sent FOX 9 the following statement about the change: 

"Allina Health will begin billing insurance companies for some patient messages submitted through their Allina Health Account that are unrelated to a recent visit. Most medical messages will remain free. Patients will not be billed for messages that are related to an appointment that occurred in the last seven days. Medical providers have seen a significant increase in medical messaging. This change will ensure clinicians have the appropriate time to meet the needs of their patients and is becoming increasingly common at health care systems across the country. Allina Health offers several virtual care options to meet patient needs through our website,"

Earlier this year, Allina doctors voted to unionize, with some providers citing an unsustainable increase in paperwork and clerical work as a source of burnout.

Billing for medical messaging has become increasingly common across many health care systems, with both Health Partners and Mayo Clinic charging for some messaging. Mayo Clinic does alert patients to the potential charge in their portal and the patient can choose to send the message or not after that. Fairview Health Services tells FOX 9 they do not bill patients for billable MyChart messages.

Full statement from Health Partners on their medical messaging policy: 

"Messages or e-visits are available to existing patients. For messages or e-visits that are unrelated to a recent visit or diagnosis, there may be corresponding charges. But, generally speaking, we don’t charge for follow-up questions related to a recent visit or about an upcoming visit, normal test results or special school, work, or daycare forms. As for our health plans, they cover telemedicine services, including online e-visits for patients with established medical care."

Full statement from Mayo Clinic on their medical messaging policy: 

"The way patients are choosing to access healthcare is changing, and Mayo Clinic is committed to providing this convenient, virtual option through its patient portal.  To qualify for billing, the message must be patient-initiated and require a clinical decision that would otherwise have been provided through an in-person or virtual office visit. Care resulting from patient-initiated secure messages is covered by most private insurance companies like other patient-provider interactions. The cost depends on the time spent assessing and responding to the patient's message, with the cost to the patient no more than $50.  

"Before a patient sends a portal message to their care team, they receive an alert and additional information on the clinical decisions resulting from the message exchange that may be billed. Upon receiving this information, the patient has the option to continue sending a message or decline to send the message so they may schedule a virtual or in-person visit instead."