"surprise
Uncategorized

CMS Issues New Rules Barring Surprise Billing

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service in late June released a series of new regulations targeted at banning surprise billing in most instances, taking aim at a scourge that ends up costing many covered individuals thousands of dollars even when they are treated in-network.

The goal of the rule, slated to take effect Jan. 1, 2022, is to ensure that health plan enrollees are not gouged for out-of-network billing and balance billing for most services unless divulged to the beneficiary and approved by them in advance. 

Balance billing ― when a medical provider bills a covered individual for the difference between the charge and the amount the insurer will pay ― is already prohibited by Medicare and Medicaid.

The interim rule will cover people who are insured by employer-sponsored health plans and plans purchased through publicly operated marketplaces. The new regulations are being implemented as required by the No Surprises Act of 2021, which passed through Congress with bipartisan support.

The effects of surprise billing

Surprise billing happens when people unknowingly get care from providers that are outside of their health plan’s network, which can happen for both emergency and non-emergency care. Examples of surprise billing include:

  • Someone breaks their leg in a fall and has to go to the nearest emergency room, which is not part of their insurer’s network. They are billed at market rates as their insurer doesn’t cover the service.
  • Someone has an operation in a network hospital but one of the providers treating them (an anesthesiologist or radiologist, for example) is not in the network, so the covered individual is billed at market rates.

Two-thirds of bankruptcies are caused by outstanding medical debt, and out-of-network billing is partly to blame for that.

Studies have shown that more than 39% of emergency department visits to in-network hospitals resulted in an out-of-network bill in 2010, increasing to 42.8% in 2016. During the same period, the average amount of a surprise medical bill also increased, from $220 to $628.

What the regulations do

The new regulations:

  • Ban surprise billing for emergency services, regardless of where they are provided. That means if a person has no choice but to go to an emergency room that is out of network, they can only be billed at the same rate they would be charged for services at an in-network hospital.
  • Bar health insurers from requiring prior authorization for emergency services, and they can’t charge their higher out-of-pocket costs for emergency services delivered by an out-of-network provider. They would also be required to count enrollees’ cost-sharing for those emergency services toward their deductible and out-of-pocket maximums.
  • Ban out-of-network charges for ancillary care at an in-network facility in all circumstances. This happens when there is an out-of-network provider working at an in-network hospital.
  • Ban other out-of-network charges without advance notice.
  • Require providers and hospitals to give patients a plain-language consumer notice explaining that patient consent is required to receive care on an out-of-network basis before that provider can bill at the higher out-of-network rate.

What’s next

This is an interim final rule that is still out for public comment. It may be changed after the CMS receives comments.

More than likely it will take effect at the start of 2022, mostly intact.

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Uncategorized

New Law Bans Surprise Billing

Part of the COVID-19 relief package that Congress passed in late December includes a notable provision that bans surprise medical bills when out-of-network doctors work on insureds at in-network hospitals.

This so-called “balance billing” occurs when an out-of-network provider is involved in a patient’s care at a hospital that accepts their insurance, often without the patient knowing about it. Patients can end up facing unexpected bills in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Specifically, the law bars out-of-network providers and air ambulance firms from billing patients for more than they would be charged by in-network providers (ground ambulance services are not covered under the law).

Additionally, health plans are barred from requiring patients to pay more for care they unknowingly receive from out-of-network providers at in-network facilities.

According to the Kaiser Foundation, 18% of emergency visits lead to at least one out-of-network charge for people covered by large group plans, as do 16% of in-network inpatient admissions.

Here are the main points of the legislation:

  • The law requires that patients be billed on their plan’s in-network rate for emergency medical care at an out-of-network facility, or if they are treated by an out-of-network clinician at an in-network hospital.
  • It protects patients admitted to an in-network hospital for a planned procedure when an out-of-network doctor works on the patient. Most often this happens when a doctor is called to provide assistance in the operating room, or if the anesthesiologist on duty is out of network.
  • Doctors and health plans are allowed to bill for out-of-network treatment in the above situations if the patient is informed of the estimated costs at least 72 before they receive care.
  • Whatever the patient pays for the above out-of-network services must be counted toward their in-network annual deductibles.

Billing disputes

For the health insurers and providers to agree on the cost of care, the new law sets up an arbitration process to settle payment disputes for out-of-network claims. The plan sponsor and the covered employee are not part of this dispute resolution process.

The law gives the insurer and provider 30 days to settle a dispute and if they can’t come to an agreement during that time, they can go to a binding arbitration process that the law creates. This “Independent Dispute Resolution” (IDR) will be administered by independent entities.

During IDR, both the insurance company and the provider submit what they want to pay to the dispute resolution arbiter, who will decide a fair amount based on what other providers charge for similar services.

The arbiter will not be allowed to consider rates paid by Medicare and Medicaid, which tend to be lower than what commercial insurers pay for services and what hospitals normally charge. 

The decisions are binding. after which the insurer has 90 days to pay the bill.

The new law takes effect in January 2021.

One more thing…

Besides banning surprise billing, the law also bars gag clauses. Many contracts between health insurers and providers include provisions that bar enrollees, plan sponsors or referring providers from seeing cost and quality data on providers. These provisions will now be prohibited.

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