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Friday
May052017

Different Approaches in Tackling the Surprise Medical Bill Problem

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By Clive Riddle, May 5, 2017

 

Surprise medical bills – from out of network physicians affiliated with network hospitals, and other similar situations – have been a long standing problem vexing consumers, providers, plans, employers and regulators. This simmering issue began boiling over the past few years as growth in narrow networks and ever increasing retail charges exacerbated the problem.

 

Arizona last week had Senate Bill 1441 signed into law: “The legislation, which takes effect in 2019, will allow a consumer with an out-of-network bill exceeding $1,000 to contact the Arizona Department of Insurance to request the appointment of an arbitrator. The insurer and health-care provider must try to settle the dispute through an informal telephone conference within 30 days of the consumer's arbitration request. The case advances to arbitration if the two sides cannot agree to an amount, with the insurer and health-care provider splitting the cost. Either party would have the right to appeal an arbitrator's decision to the county Superior Court.”

 

Oregon, Texas and Nevada, to name some states, currently have legislative activity of different kinds on this front.

 

Gastroenterology & Endoscopy News ran a nice April 20th 2017 article, Out-of-Network Billing: ‘Surprise Billing’ or ‘Surprise Gaps In Insurance Coverage’? that included a great summary of state level initiatives addressing these surprises.  Included in this discussion was:

·         A number of states are linking reimbursement to rates determined by the independent third-party database.

·         In New York  “Hospitals must disclose which health plans they accept and list standard charges for services. Perhaps most important, they must alert patients that physicians working at an in-network facility may not actually participate in the insurance network and can therefore bill patients directly.”

·         “California recently passed a law that settles out-of-network billing disputes by using one of two benchmarks. Providers will be reimbursed the greater of either 125% of Medicare rates or the insurer’s average contracted rate for the same or similar services in the same geographic region.”…but “not surprisingly, the California law is already being challenged in court.”

·         “Florida’s new law sets reimbursement for out-of-network claims at the lesser of: the provider’s charges; the UCR provider charges for similar services in the community where the services were provided; or the charge mutually agreed to by the insurer and the provider within 60 days of the submittal of the claim. The key in Florida moving forward will be how UCR is defined.”

 

The American Journal of Managed Care  has just issued a release discussing an article in their current issue: Battling the Chargemaster: A Simple Remedy to Balance Billing for Unavoidable Out-of-Network Care, in which “two doctors and two lawyers say they have a solution that doesn’t require legislation: better use of contract law…..Authors Barak D. Richman, JD, PhD; Nick Kitzman, JD; Arnold Milstein, MD, MPH; and Kevin A. Schulman, MD, say the problem starts with the ‘chargemaster,’ a hospital’s master list of prices for billable services. The authors say the defining feature of the chargemaster is that it is ‘devoid of any calculation related to cost,’ and has no relation to local market conditions.”

 

They release continues that “acontract law solution empowers the very parties who currently are being exploited by out-of-network charges,” they write. An emerging consensus, supported by a key court ruling, finds that providers are not entitled to ‘chargemaster’ rates, because neither the patient nor the payer agreed to them. Instead, the authors write, the law “entitles providers to collect no more than the prevailing negotiated market prices” for out-of-network care. In other words, rates already negotiated by hospitals, doctors, and area payers are the norm, not those artificially inflated on the ‘chargemaster.’ This leads to a stark conclusion, the authors find. ‘Providers have no legal authority to collect chargemaster charges that exceed market prices for out-of-network services, nor are payers under any obligation to pay such chargemaster prices.’ The authors make their case in a legal analysis available online.”

 

So while “the authors praise state legislators for trying to end surprise medical bills, they say the courtroom is the proper place for these disputes. Other remedies, like bans on out-of-network bills, don’t encourage cost-saving steps or competition.”

 

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