Article Date: 10/1/2003

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Be Careful of Hidden Fees
What happens when "fees" becomes the latest four-letter word?
FROM THE EXECUTIVE EDITOR, Jim Thomas

The telecommunications company MCI calls me and asks what I pay for my monthly phone bill. Sixty five dollars, I tell the MCI representative. He tells me that I can get the same services through MCI for $49.95. I say go ahead and sign me up. The next month, my bill comes from MCI. It's for $65. At that moment, I remember that I hate phone companies.

A fee for all

But I really don't hate phone companies. I hate their fees, those charges that turn a $49.95 bill into a $65 bill.

There are reasons why fees are a hot topic of discussion in business and consumer media. Imagine $15 in telephone taxes and surcharges multiplied over hundreds of thousands of customers. That's big money. And we can move beyond the phone companies because scads of other industries have engaged in this "fee for all." You've recognized this if you've recently stayed at a hotel, purchased new tires, used a credit card or tried to substitute fries for potato chips.

In many cases, companies use fees instead of raising prices. As a result, buyers face many layers of hidden and often misleading charges. Comparison shopping becomes a frustrating exercise that leaves buyers making purchase decisions without a lot of critical information. Complaints against such practices are met with the less-than-sympathetic cry, "it's legal and everybody does it."

Let the buyer be aware

There is no single fool-proof solution to the tangled web of fees. You can refuse all unsolicited proposals where there's nothing in print, as in the case of telemarketing. You can read the pages of fine print that accompany an item or service. But many companies have become experts in burying fees. With larger purchase decisions, business advisors recommend that as a safeguard, you pass the fine print on to a lawyer or an accountant before you sign on the dotted line.

Now it's your turn

By comparison, fees in optometry are uncomplicated. But this doesn't mean that you shouldn't review your fees regularly. They should be easy to understand and reflect the professionalism of your practice and the value of your services.

And if you're a member of a managed vision care plan that bases reimbursement on the doctor's usual and customary fees, then be sure to file your current fees with the plan. It's the only way to receive the maximum benefit in a world where there are too many other ways to lose your money.

 


Optometric Management, Issue: October 2003