Joint Surprise Billing Letter to Congress and Committee Leadership

February 20, 2019

Dear Congressional and Committee Leadership:

On behalf of our member hospitals, health systems and other health care organizations, we are fully committed to protecting patients from “surprise bills” that result from unexpected gaps in coverage or medical emergencies. We appreciate your leadership on this issue and look forward to continuing to work with you on a federal legislative solution.

Surprise bills can cause patients stress and financial burden at a time of particular vulnerability: when they are in need of medical care. Patients are at risk of incurring such bills during emergencies, as well as when they schedule care at an in-network facility without knowing the network status of all of the providers who may be involved in their care. We must work together to protect patients from surprise bills.

As you debate a legislative solution, we believe it is critical to:

  • Define “surprise bills.” Surprise bills may occur when a patient receives care from an out-of-network provider or when their health plan fails to pay for covered services. The three most typical scenarios are when: (1) a patient accesses emergency services outside of their insurance network, including from providers while they are away from home; (2) a patient receives care from an out-of-network physician providing services in an in-network hospital; or (3) a health plan denies coverage for emergency services saying they were unnecessary.
  • Protect the patient financially. Patients should have certainty regarding their cost-sharing obligations, which should be based on an in-network amount. Providers should not balance bill, meaning they should not send a patient a bill beyond their cost-sharing obligations.
  • Ensure patient access to emergency care. Patients should be assured of access to and coverage of emergency care. This requires that health plans adhere to the “prudent layperson standard” and not deny payment for emergency care that, in retrospect, the health plan determined was not an emergency.
  • Preserve the role of private negotiation. Health plans and providers should retain the ability to negotiate appropriate payment rates. The government should not establish a fixed payment amount or reimbursement methodology for out-of-network services, which could create unintended consequences for patients by disrupting incentives for health plans to create comprehensive networks.
  • Remove the patient from health plan/provider negotiations. Patients should not be placed in the middle of negotiations between insurers and providers. Health plans must work directly with providers on reimbursement, and the patient should not be responsible for transmitting any payment between the plan and the provider.
  • Educate patients about their health care coverage. We urge you to include an educational component to help patients understand the scope of their health care coverage and how to access their benefits. All stakeholders – health plans, employers, providers and others – should undertake efforts to improve patients’ health care literacy and support them in navigating the health care system and their coverage.
  • Ensure patients have access to comprehensive provider networks and accurate network information. Patients should have access to a comprehensive network of providers, including in-network physicians and specialists at in-network facilities. Health plans should provide easily-understandable information about their provider network, including accurate listings for hospital-based physicians, so that patients can make informed health care decisions. Federal and state regulators should ensure both the adequacy of health plan provider networks and the accuracy of provider directories.
  • Support state laws that work. Any public policy should take into account the interaction between federal and state laws. Many states have undertaken efforts to protect patients from surprise billing. Any federal solution should provide a default to state laws that meet the federal minimum for consumer protections.

We look forward to opportunities to discuss these solutions and work together to achieve them.

Sincerely,

American Hospital Association
America’s Essential Hospitals
Association of American Medical Colleges
Catholic Health Association of the United States
Children’s Hospital Association
Federation of American Hospitals

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