You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myPalmBeachPost.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myPalmBeachPost.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myPalmBeachPost.com.

Surprise medical bills: Law signed as advocate credits Post readers


Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday signed 20 bills including a ban on surprise medical charges — consumer protection that shoots Florida to the national forefront on the issue as a state advocate credited Palm Beach Post readers with playing an especially engaged role.

“The involvement and feedback from folks in Palm Beach County was crucial in highlighting the face of the issue,” said Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate Sha’Ron James. “As a result of the Post’s interest in the issue, we received many phones calls and messages from consumers who had experienced surprise medical bills.”

HB 221 puts new limits on what is sometimes called “balance billing.” It means consumers cannot be charged more than the equivalent of in-network charges in emergencies and other situations where the patient has no real choice — such as an out-of-network anesthesiologist for a scheduled procedure at an in-network hospital.

In a public meeting last fall, James cited examples including a Boca Raton woman who said that she stunned to be billed for more than $80,000 by a surgeon out of her insurer’s network, though the hospital was in network. The woman said she had to liquidate a retirement account.

Others reached out as well, helping state officials understand how the problem was blindsiding ordinary people. A Jupiter family told of being hit with of more than $20,000 in out-of-network charges.

A Loxahatchee law enforcement officer and his wife talked about more than $10,000 in out-of-pocket payments and more than $6,000 in collection notices, even though they had insurance. “We need help as consumers,” Joyce Trapp urged legislators in a Post story.

A similar legislative effort stalled a year before, but personal stories helped make the issue more difficult for lawmakers to brush aside — despite heavy lobbying pressure from interest groups who opposed it. The bill passed in the final hours of the session March 11.

“Floridians sent a powerful message to state lawmakers to pass this legislation, and we’re pleased that they listened,” Betsy Imholz, special projects director for Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, said Thursday. “We encourage other states to follow Florida’s lead and pass strong, comprehensive legislation that protects consumers from balance billing and the surprise bills that come from it.”

The governor also signed 19 other bills on Thursday, including measures promoting transparency in health care pricing and a bill that lets customers of state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. see all offers from private insurers, not just one at a time.

As for the surprise medical bills measure, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater of North Palm Beach called it “an incredibly consumer-friendly piece of legislation” with “a balanced solution to the complex issue of medical billing.”

That does not mean everyone is happy. The bill exempts ambulance services, who lobbied to be excluded after arguing local taxes might have to rise if they could not charge out-of-network rates.

Other medical providers expressed deep concern.

“What we ended up with was the insurers, experiencing record profits already, getting handed the ability to unilaterally set physician payment rates,” Jay Epstein, chairman of legislative affairs for the Florida Society of Anesthesiologists, said in March. “What undoubtedly will result is the need for physicians to litigate what is bound to be dramatic underpayments.”

For their part, consumer advocacy groups hailed it as a huge victory Thursday because it forces insurers and medical providers to settle disputes on their own — and leave consumers out of the middle.

“For too long, consumers have been trapped between insurance networks and out-of-network physicians,” said Laura Brennaman, policy and research director for Florida CHAIN (Community Health Action Information Network). “With the law signed today consumers, who are forced through no fault of their own to receive care from an out-of-network physician, will be protected from surprise balance bills.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Nation & World

Trump's agenda: Approving private projects, including those of allies
Trump's agenda: Approving private projects, including those of allies

Just four days after he was inaugurated, President Donald Trump delivered a clear message that he would use his office to help industry friends and political allies. He signed a Jan. 24 executive order that assured completion of the Dakota Access pipeline, which will transport oil fracked by various companies, including one owned by Oklahoma oilman...
Can Trump destroy Obama’s legacy?
Can Trump destroy Obama’s legacy?

When the judgment of history comes, former President Barack Obama might have figured he would have plenty to talk about. Among other things, he assumed he could point to his health care program, his sweeping trade deal with Asia, his global climate change accord and his diplomatic opening to Cuba. That was then. Five months after leaving office, Obama...
Trump to call for US 'dominance' in global energy production
Trump to call for US 'dominance' in global energy production

President Donald Trump will promote surging U.S. exports of oil and natural gas during a week of events to highlight the country's growing energy dominance. Trump also plans to emphasize that after decades of relying on foreign energy supplies, the U.S. is on the brink of becoming a net exporter of oil, gas, coal and other energy resources. As with...
Democrats field glut of candidates, but remain divided on how to win
Democrats field glut of candidates, but remain divided on how to win

The largest number of Democratic congressional candidates in decades are putting into play dozens of House districts across the country, raising the possibility of a bitterly contested midterm election cycle next year as the party and its activists try to take advantage of President Donald Trump's unpopularity to win a majority in the House. Yet these...
They were smokejumpers when CIA sent them to Laos; they came back in caskets
They were smokejumpers when CIA sent them to Laos; they came back in caskets

Their families didn't know they were in Laos, and didn't know that they'd started working for the CIA in addition to their jobs with the U.S. Forest Service. They were young firefighters-turned-CIA operatives working thousands of miles from home in a remote corner of Southeast Asia. David W. Bevan, Darrell A. Eubanks and John S. Lewis, all in their...
More Stories