Hassan files bill to stop unexpected medical fees

Maggie Hassan

SEABROOK — After advocating alongside a local woman who shared her personal experience during the State of the Union, U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan filed legislation that would help people hit with unexpectedly high medical bills.

Hassan, D-N.H., U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and a group of senators introduced the STOP Surprise Medical Bills Act on May 16 to put an end to unforeseen medical expenses. The bipartisan legislation has eight Republican and eight Democratic backers, Hassan said.

“The basic concept here is people buy health insurance so they won’t be surprised by their health care bills,” Hassan said.

Under the legislation, patients who go to an emergency room for any kind of medical emergency, whether the ER is in or out of network, will only be responsible for in-network costs, Hassan said.

“When you’re having a medical emergency, you can’t choose which facility to go to. You just know you need to get care as quickly as possible,” Hassan added.

She said patients would not receive surprise medical bills for nonemergency care at in-network facilities. If someone is going for nonemergency room care at an in-network facility and the facility knows a provider is going to be out of network, the facility has to inform the patient, who needs to give consent, Hassan noted.

The senator said the bill would protect patients who require additional health care services after receiving emergency care at an out-of-network facility but can’t be moved without medical transport from the out-of-network facility.

Doctors would automatically receive the difference between a patient’s payment and the in-network rate for services, according to the bill. But Hassan said insurance providers could appeal the payment amount to a third party.

Last week, the bill’s sponsors joined President Donald Trump for a press conference on the issue at the White House, where patients from across the country shared their experiences of facing thousands of dollars in surprise medical bills, Hassan said.

The Granite State senator said she’s talked with people who have seen unexpected bills as high as $100,000.

Earlier this year, Donna Beckman of Seabrook attended the State of the Union with Hassan as her guest of honor. Beckman shared her surprise medical bill story, which Hassan said she’s seen over and over again.

“Donna has done just a remarkable job of telling her story and making clear to people why this is such a significant issue and why we need to address it,” said Hassan, who added that Beckman was able to share her story with lawmakers at the State of the Union dinner preceding the address.

Beckman went to her in-network emergency room on the advice of her doctor only to find herself with a $1,600 bill because one of the providers she saw at the end of the visit wasn’t in her network, Hassan said.

After much advocating for herself and talking with her insurance company, Beckman only had to pay her usual $32 co-payment.

“This got people interested on the human impact of the surprise medical billing practice,” Hassan noted.

Hassan said the bill would provide cost savings for the federal government and is fair to providers and payers. She mentioned she’s “pleased” Trump indicated he wants to work on a solution.

Hassan added that she understands there will be a larger package of health care legislation presented later this year, which will include surprise medical bill legislation. 

“We have worked for almost a year with patient groups, doctors, insurers and hospitals to refine this proposal,” Cassidy said in a press release. “This is a bipartisan solution ensuring patients are protected and don’t receive surprise bills that are uncapped by anything but a sense of shame.”

To read a previous story on the issue, visit https://www.newburyportnews.com/news/local_news/seabrook-woman-attends-state-of-the-union-as-guest-of/article_78f978c4-82f7-58cb-8311-8b332a45bdff.html.