State Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, speaks during a press conference in January.
Photo: AP Photo/John Amis, File
Photo: AP Photo/John Amis, File

Georgia Senate approves measure aiming to cut down on surprise medical billing

The Georgia Senate on Monday unanimously approved legislation that aims to cut down on surprise medical bills.

Senate Bill 359 aims to protect patients from being surprised when he or she receives a medical bill after getting treatment.

The bill’s sponsor, Rome Republican state Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, an anesthetist, told the story of working at a hospital over the weekend of a man being embraced by his wife after going through a successful surgery.

“I watched the two of them, cheek to cheek, hug each other and smile, knowing that there would come a day that they would be separated form each other temporarily, but it wouldn’t be today,” he said. “What we don’t need from those moments is to come up, months later, with bills that devastate them.”

Unexpected medical bills for people who thought they were insured can happen for different reasons. The legislation deals with a frequent occurrence — when a properly insured patient goes to a hospital.

The hospital may or may not be in the patient’s insurance network; but within the hospital he or she is treated by an independent contractor who is not part of the patient’s insurance network. Then that doctor sends the patient a separate bill for whatever he or she thinks the patient should pay.

Under the legislation, a patient still could still face higher medical costs if he or she went to an out-of-network hospital for a non-emergency.

The patient would be deemed to have “chosen” a non-network doctor if he or she gave verbal and written consent before receiving the medical services and was told an estimate of the potential charges. The medical office wouldn’t have to give the patient any time to consider and could get his or her consent just before the service was provided.

The legislation now heads to the House, where a similar bill has been making its way through the legislative process.

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