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Balance Billing Legislation Heads to House Floor for Vote

February 17, 2016 - 4:15pm

The Florida House of Representatives will take up a proposal to ban balance billing in the Sunshine State after a House committee approved the measure -- its last stop before the House floor -- Wednesday. 

The bill, HB 221, sponsored by Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, would prohibit balance billing in emergency medical situations. On Wednesday, the House Health and Human Services committee approved the measure and sent it to the House floor.

When patients go into a emergency room, they’ll often receive a bill from the hospital for medical care, but after they’re discharged from the hospital, patients will sometimes get “surprise” bills from doctors at the hospital who may have been out of network. These bills are usually for the remainder of the balance not paid for by the insurance company. 

Balance billing, state lawmakers say, can be quite the problem for consumers since it can often leave them saddled with pricey medical bills -- often to the tune of thousands of dollars -- and consumers can be forced to pay the bill outright or go into consumer bankruptcy. 

Supporters of the legislation say the bill is necessary because it will take the consumer out of the equation and possibly save them from drowning in debt. 

But opponents of the bill have expressed concerns it might give insurance companies too much power to select which doctors to contract with in emergency situations.

“It empowers the insurance companies to never contract with that doctor again,” said Rep. Fred Costello, R-Ormond Beach, who voted against the legislation but changed his vote to support it later.

The latest versions of the legislation now omit ambulances, which means patients could still get slapped with fees from ambulance companies after their visit to the emergency room is over. 

Ultimately, the House committee rubber stamped the bill and sent it along its way. It will now head to the House floor for a full vote.

The legislation has gathered the support of many different medical interests, including health insurance companies, consumer groups and even some groups representing physicians statewide. Both the Florida Association of Health Plans and the Florida Medical Association, who are often at odds, hopped onboard with the measure.

“This is a serious issue affecting Floridians everyday and we at FAHP appreciate Representative Trujillo for introducing this legislation, as well as the members of the Florida House Health and Human Services Committee for their thoughtful consideration of it today and, ultimately, its passage,” said FAHP President and CEO Audrey Brown.

“The bills also protect insured patients in non-emergency situations who receive care at in-network hospitals from out-of-network physicians or other providers when they have no ability or opportunity to choose an in-network provider,” said  patient advocacy group Florida CHAIN’s policy and research director Laura Brennaman. “This is a scenario that currently happens with hospital-based contracted providers like anesthesiologists, radiologists, and pathologists.”

The Senate companion bill of the legislation passed through the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee Tuesday. It still has one more committee stop before it heads to the Senate floor for a vote. 

 

Reach reporter Allison Nielsen by email at allison@sunshinestatenews.com or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen

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