It’s About Time: No Surprises Act

Pleasant surprises often don’t work out. Case in point: a colleague sent me an email to our joint email account letting me know that he would not be able to come to my wife’s surprise party (she probably knew anyway).

When it comes to medical billing, surprises are never intended to be pleasant. “As many as one in five patients visiting an emergency department or undergoing elective surgery receives an out-of-network bill from a clinician whom they had no ability to choose.”

It appears that improvement in this area is on the horizon. KR Chhabra et al. NEJM 2021; 384:1381-1383. No More Surprises — New Legislation on Out-of-Network Billing

Key points:

  • “Effective January 1, 2022, patients receiving an out-of-network emergency services, air-ambulance transportation, or out-of-network nonemergency services at in-network facilities may be billed only the amount they would owe for an in-network provider.”
  • “Out-of-network providers and insurers will have 30 days to agree on payment and then may invoke a binding arbitration process.”
  • “Three days before scheduled procedures, clinicians and insurers must inform patients of their expected out-of-pocket costs and clinicians’ network status and consenting to out-of-network bills can patients be balance-billed.
  • “This notice-and-consent doesn’t apply to emergency services [and] situations in which there are no in-network alternatives…patients cannot be balance billed in these cases…, even if they provide consent.”
  • “The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the law will reduce payments for some clinicians, reduce insurance premiums by up to 1%, and save the federal government nearly $17 billion over 10 years.”
  • “The law’s transparency provisions–particularly the requirements to provide advance price and network-participation information –may have a larger effect on day-to-day practice than its balance-billing provisions.”
  • Omission in law: ground-ambulance surprise bills
  • Potential effect: insurers may leverage the law to drop high-priced providers and potentially the law may lead to low-price providers to drop out of network

My take: This is a huge advance for patients/families; it is likely to reduce financial harm to patients and improve trust in the health care system.

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  1. Pingback: NYT: How to Look Up Prices at Your Hospital, if They Exist | gutsandgrowth

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