LAWMAKERS PUSH FOR MEASURES PROTECTING CONSUMERS FROM UNFAIR CANCELLATION FEES

Legislative Committees to Begin Considering Measures to Limit Fees for Rescheduling Medical Appointments; Terminating Cell Phone or Cable Contracts; Cancelling Customer Service Appointments

(TRENTON) — Senator Linda R. Greenstein, Assemblymen Wayne P. DeAngelo and Daniel R. Benson and Assemblywoman Connie Wagner are spearheading efforts to curtail cancellation fees levied on consumers for rescheduling or cancelling health care or customer service appointments or cancelling contracts for telecommunications services.

Under components of the Consumer Cancellation Protection package of bills, customers would not be charged exorbitant fees for legitimately cancelling appointments if they are unable to keep them or ending contracts if they are displeased with services.

“Heavy-handed cancellation policies assume the worst in their patients or customers; they assume that the client is purposefully skipping out on their commitments,” said Greenstein (D-Plainsboro). “We are seeking to put a structure in place that protects patients who are legitimately cancelling appointments if they’re stuck at work, have a sick child at home, or faced with an unforeseen emergency.”

“The fact of the matter is that virtually every patient or customer who cancels their appointments or contracts does so after careful consideration and making their best effort to keep them,” said DeAngelo (D-Hamilton). “They shouldn’t be held hostage by arbitrarily set cancellation fees that can be higher than the cost of the service initially scheduled.”

“Life events happen where we honestly have to miss a scheduled appointment, especially in today’s fast paced world. These bills would ensure that consumers aren’t taken advantage of when this occurs,” said Benson (D-Hamilton). “This legislation would ensure that consumers are protected from businesses trying to make a profit from a missed appointment rather than influence behavior.”

Senate Bill 2475/Assembly Bill 3107 would limit fees charged for rescheduling, cancelling or not showing up for health care services. A doctor, dentist or other health care providers would not be able to charge a patient more than $25 if they cancel, reschedule or fail to show-up for an appointment with less than 24 hours notice three times within a six month time period. The health care provider would need to inform the patient of the policy when the appointment is scheduled.

Senate Bill 2476/Assembly Bill 3108 would cap the fees charged for cancelling or rescheduling services such as cosmetology, hairstyling, skin care or beauty care treatments, or similar services.

The fee charged to a customer for cancelling or rescheduling such an appointment would be limited to 25 percent of the cost for the services initially scheduled if the customer changes it less than 24 hours in advance. Establishments would need to notify customers of the cancelling policy either verbally or in writing at the time when the appointment is made.

“We understand that businesses and doctor’s offices need to maintain full schedules. However, there needs to be a balance between customers with legitimate cancellations that can’t be helped and habitual ‘no-show’ clients who have no regard for professionals. We are striving to strike that balance in these measures,” said DeAngelo.

The final measure, Senate Bill 2477/Assembly Bill 3109, would establish a grace period for cancelling cell phone or cable service. Consumers would not be charged for cancelling services for any reason within 30 days of entering into the contract.

“Cancellation fees force customers to keep services that are not suitable to their needs or liking. With the amount of competition in the telecommunications industry, customers should be able to change their provider freely within a reasonable timeframe if they are unhappy with the service,” said Greenstein.

The measures also are sponsored by Assemblywoman Connie Wagner (D-Paramus).

“Service providers should be confident enough in what they offer to give consumers the right to opt out,” said Wagner (D-Bergen). “Customers get protections like this in many products they buy, so this is quite simply common sense consumer protection legislation.”

Failure to comply with the parameters of each measure would fall under the penalties set forth in the Consumer Fraud Act.

The measure limiting cancellation fees for health care services will be considered by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee on Thursday, January 20, 2011. The bill that would provide a grace period for cancelling cell phone or cable contracts will be considered by the Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee also to be held on Thursday.