February 17, 2016
Palm Beach Post
A ban on surprise emergency medical bills cleared its final Florida House committee Wednesday, and is headed to the chamber floor in a form close to what passed a Senate committtee a day earlier.
The aim of HB 221 is to prevent consumers from getting unexpected bills — sometimes tens of thousands of dollars — when they are treated in emergency situations by medical providers out of their insurance plan’s network. It is a problem sometimes called “balance billing.”
“I am thrilled!” said Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate Sha’Ron James.”The amount of collaboration and compromise that has taken place on behalf of Florida consumers is unprecedented.”
James held a workshop on the issue last fall after hearing from from consumers and others from Jupiter, Boca Raton and around the state.
Groups often on opposite sides of the debate during the last two years, including the Florida Medical Association and Florida Association of Health Plans, waived comment in support of the measure Wednesday.
Under the legislation, consumers could not be billed more the equivalent of in-network co-pays and deductibles in emergencies, and must see greater transparency and disclosure in non-emergency situations, supporters say. It provides that medical providers and insurers can work out disagreements in a dispute-resolution process or in court, but the intention expressed by sponsors is to “hold consumers harmless.”
The Senate version, SB 1442, faces one more committee stop. The latest versions of the legislation do not mention ambulances, potentially leaving consumers vulnerable to surprise charges there. Many county-run ambulance services do not join insurer networks, arguing local taxes might have to rise if they were forced to do so.