Surprise billing of medical patients – when people go to a hospital in their insurance network but get surprised by a bill from an out-of-network doctor anyway – is a big problem. Legislators are still wrestling with a solution.
On Tuesday the state Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee met to discuss one proposal on surprise billing: Senate Bill 8, sponsored by the committee’s chairwoman, Renee Unterman, R-Buford.
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The senators didn’t vote. They did hear heated testimony, from interest groups arguing over whether insurance companies pay a fair rate.
The final person to testify was a surprise patient: Vicki Willard, a Republican fundraiser and the wife of a powerful legislator. She was there with her own tale of getting a surprise bill.
“As my husband said, I’m grit, gristle and determination and I can take care of myself,” Willard said. But when she went to her in-network hospital with an emergency heart problem, she still got an extra bill. It was from the second cardiologist who visited her during her stay, who happened to be on contract with the hospital and out of its network.
“I as a citizen of Georgia have absolutely no control over that,” Willard said. “I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do and I have no control. I’m vulnerable.”
The committee discussed possible changes to SB 8. Unterman readily admits that it is a baby step. It doesn’t address bills under $600. Although it makes some information available to patients, it leaves patients to do much of their own research. And it doesn’t address bills where the patient simply pays, rather than protests.
“I’m just going one step at a time,” Unterman said after the hearing. Gesturing to the large room that lobbyists had packed to standing room only, she added, “You can see how difficult that is.”