State Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, shown here in 2017, sponsored a bill to reduce surprise bills for people with health insurance who seek medical treatment. (PHOTO by BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM)

Measure to reduce hospital surprise bills passes Georgia Senate

The Georgia Senate on Tuesday passed Senate Bill 56, a measure that aims to stop the practice of “surprise billing.”

This type of surprise billing involves a properly insured patient going to an emergency room but later receiving an uncovered bill for some service within the hospital; that service turns out to be an independent contractor without his or her own agreement with the insurance company. These are often radiologists or anesthetists.

SB 56, sponsored by state Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, would require insurance companies and hospitals to give patients information on who their doctors will be and on who is and isn’t in-network — if the patient asks. In doing that, it’s similar to a bill being considered in the House, House Bill 84.

But SB 56 would do more. It would also require the patient’s insurance company to pay.

The sticking point for such proposals has always been the dollar amount the law would set for the insurer to pay in the absence of a contract. SB 56 would tie the payment rate to an independent database of paid bills. Insurance companies say it will be too high.

After being amended to say that patients would have to pay their own co-pays to the hospital, the bill passed the Senate unanimously. It is now headed to the House, where it has historically stalled in the Insurance Committee. The chairman of that committee is state Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus, whose district includes the world headquarters of the insurer Aflac.

Insurance companies say they’re trying to keep health care costs down, including insurance costs.

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