The LA Times weighs in…

The LA Times editorial board endorsed two Health Access California-sponsored bills this weekend to prevent surprise out-of-pocket out-of-network costs. SB137(Hernandez) would require real-time accurate and standardized provider directories; AB533(Bonta) would ensure that consumers who go to an in-network hospital or facility does not get out-of-network bills from any of the doctors or other providers they may encounter. The entire editorial is worth reading, but here’s an excerpt:

“…people want to know before they sign up for a narrow network plan whether they’ll be able to keep the doctors they like, or how far they’d have to travel to see someone willing to take new patients. And in too many cases, they’ve enrolled only to be turned away by doctors who were purportedly in their plan’s network, either because the list was inaccurate or the doctors didn’t understand their contract with the insurer.

“SB 137 by state Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) would require insurers to publish provider lists online and update them weekly, including information about office locations, specialties, languages spoken and willingness to accept new patients. To avoid penalties, the lists would have to be at least 97% accurate and be available to anyone who’s interested.

“Even when patients arrange for care from in-network hospitals and doctors, however, they can still be hit with huge bills from out-of-network specialists and assistants. In an era of electronic payments and digital health records, it’s hard to believe that insurers can’t keep track of who’s in their networks, what services they provide and where their offices are…

“One reason it’s crucial to know who’s in a network is that the cost of seeing an out-of-network provider for nonemergency care can be ruinously high. Insurance plans cover a smaller percentage of out-of-network bills, if they cover them at all, and unlike in-network providers, out-of-network doctors don’t agree to discounted fees.

“Even when patients arrange for care from in-network hospitals and doctors, however, they can still be hit with huge bills from out-of-network specialists and assistants they had no idea would be involved in their care. In the most egregious cases, an in-network surgeon will bring in an affiliated specialist or laboratory not in the patient’s network in order to multiply the fees…

“AB 533 by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) would protect patients who go to in-network hospitals from being billed at out-of-network rates for any service received there. The only exception would be for patients who agree at least a day in advance to receive and pay for out-of-network services. In effect, the bill would hold patients harmless while insurers and providers squabble over the fees for out-of-network services…

“The opposition to both measures reflects the potentially difficult adjustments insurers and providers would be forced to make in their operations. Those adjustments, however, are overdue. With the Affordable Care Act requiring all adult Americans to buy coverage, insurers simply have to deliver accurate provider lists. And providers shouldn’t be able to undermine that insurance by seeking out-of-network rates from patients who stay within their networks for care.”

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