Bipartisan Bill Aims To Relieve Surprise Medical Costs

Patients may be removed from out-of-network billing disputes.

By Jill Ament & Rhonda FanningMarch 1, 2019 6:51 am,

A new bill in the Texas Senate aims to alleviate surprise medical bills that arise when patients visit emergency facilities that are out-of-network.

Jenny Deam, who covers health care for the Houston Chronicle, says patients often receive surprise bills even after paying copays, out-of-pocket expenses and deductibles. She says the goal of the new bill is to let doctors and insurers settle billing disputes without patients.  

“One of the complaints about the existing mediation system is that patients were left to initiate it,” Deam says. “They had to get the ball rolling. What this proposal would do is get them out of the mediation process completely.”

The bill is modeled after similar efforts in other states, most notably New York.

“There is a growing number of states that are doing exactly what Texas has proposed to do with success,” Deam says. “Where the patient is really out of it and they’re out of the fray.”

State Sen. Kelly Hancock, a Republican from Fort Worth, filed the bill Thursday. Democratic Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer from San Antonio filed a version of the bill in the House.

Deam says bipartisan support, along with backing from business groups, consumer groups and insurers will help the bill progress, but doctors may be the sticking point.

“[The Texas Medical Association] has in the past been reluctant to remove patients from the middle of these disputes, saying that patients need to be there to stick up for themselves,” Deam says. “Just introducing a bill does not mean that it will become law. It has a long way to go.”

Written by Sol Chase.