Many patients get upset at the fact that they have to pay for copies of their medical records. They believe they have already paid for the records when the provider was paid for her services. However, this charge is actually intended to cover the cost of someone's time to retrieve the records, make copies and supply postage, if necessary.
Each state has its own laws about how much can be charged, usually an amount per page. In some states, the charge is required only to be "reasonable." Here is a list of states and their allowable charges.
Not all providers will charge the maximum amount the law in their state allows. Just ask the provider's office what they charge for copies of medical records. Depending on how difficult the retrieval will be, and how many pages need to be copied, they may charge you nothing, or they may charge you the maximum.
Hospital records follow the same rules, and incur the same costs.
If you can't afford to pay for your medical records, you cannot be refused access. In most states, you are required to state in your own handwriting that you cannot afford to pay for them. Give that statement to your provider or the medical records office in the hospital, at which point the provider will usually give them to you at no cost.
One way to bypass the cost may be to request your records at each of your appointments or visits. Make it a habit to request copies as you get ready to leave the provider's office. Since the records have not yet been stored, you may not be charged anything for the copies. This policy will vary by practice and facility.