A new California law (AB 72) limits the amount that out-of-network surgeons and other health care professionals may bill patients for covered non-emergency services provided at a contracted facility, such as an ambulatory surgery center. California’s surprise medical bill law went into effect on July 1, 2017. It is intended to prevent a consumer from receiving an unexpected medical bill from a non-contracted provider as follows:
- A patient who is enrolled (Enrollee);
- In a health care service plan or health insurance policy (Plan);
- Receives health care services covered by the Plan;
- From an individual health professional (Professional);
- Who does not have a contract with the Plan; and
- Services are performed at (or as a result of) a contracted health facility (Facility).
In such circumstances, the Enrollee may be billed no more than the same cost-sharing amount that the Enrollee would pay a contracted Professional for the same service (in-network cost sharing amount). At the time of payment, the Plan must inform the Enrollee and the non-contracted Professional of the in-network cost-sharing amount owed by the Enrollee.
A proposed rule intended to stabilize the individual and small group insurance markets was issued on February 17, 2017, only a week after the Senate confirmed Tom Price as the Secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department (HHS). Although the proposed rule is intended to stabilize these markets, it may make it more difficult for individuals to obtain and maintain health insurance coverage, thereby reducing the number of people who are insured.
This is a turbulent time for American healthcare. Within weeks after the publication of the proposed rule, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to repeal and replace key provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and make significant changes to federal funding for Medicaid. On Friday, March 24, House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the bill before a vote. In the aftermath of the bill’s withdrawal, President Trump predicted that if it were left in place, ObamaCare would explode. As recently as Sunday, April 2, however, the President tweeted that talks of repeal and replace of the ACA were ongoing and would continue until a deal was struck. On Tuesday, April 4, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Republican lawmakers are having productive talks on a new healthcare reform bill.
This on again, off again, action to attack the ACA leaves a great deal of uncertainty for healthcare providers. That uncertainty is compounded by regulatory action that will affect the ACA in ways less visible to the public. Apparently, Secretary Price is well aware of HHS' options to make regulatory changes. According to the Chicago Tribune, he remarked during the House Appropriations Committee hearing on his agency’s proposed budget that "[f]ourteen hundred and forty-two times the ACA said 'the secretary shall' or 'the secretary may.'
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