SEABROOK — While President Donald Trump gave his State of the Union address Tuesday night, a local woman was one of the many guests of honor who had a seat in the House chamber.
Donna Beckman of Seabrook was invited by U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., to attend as her guest. Each member of Congress is permitted to invite a guest to the address, typically someone who represents a certain political issue or message for which the lawmaker is advocating.
“I asked her if she wanted to come down and be my guest because she has experienced something that I think a lot of Granite Staters do, which is she went to a hospital that she thought was in her insurance network and ended up with a surprise bill, a really ridiculously large bill for a short visit,” Hassan said in a video interview.
Hassan invited Beckman to talk about surprise medical expenses — when patients are charged for out-of-network medical care at in-network care centers. Beckman received a surprise medical bill for $1,648 after a visit to an emergency room listed in her insurance network, according to a press release from Hassan’s office.
“I was just feeling under the weather one summer day and I wasn’t sure if it was cardiac related or what was going on,” Beckman said in a video interview. “I had almost just kind of blacked out a little bit in my kitchen, but again, at that moment not knowing exactly what was going on, obviously, I wanted to seek medical care.”
Beckman’s husband took her to Seabrook Emergency Room, a facility where she had some basic testing done, according to the interview. Beckman was later told that a doctor she saw, for about five minutes, was out of network for her health insurance coverage, according to Hassan’s office.
“Months go by and then the bills started coming in,” Beckman said. “They were mostly for co-payments, which I could see clearly they were marked, ‘This is what we paid, this is what you pay.’ After paying about $700 in deductibles, I got a bill of $1,648 from the physician who came in to say, ‘You’re OK to go, follow up with your primary (doctor)' and that was when I just absolutely could not believe it.”
When she was checking into the Seabrook facility, her insurance information was given to the nurse, paperwork was signed, and she felt she had no choice or idea which doctor was going to see her. Beckman said the facility didn’t notify her the doctor was an out-of-network physician.
Beckman said she ended up paying what would have been her normal co-pay of $32.64.
“But that was after a lot of being on the phone, doing a lot of self-advocacy, working with my insurance company as well as really trying to spread the word about basically the staffing agencies that provides these physicians,” she added.
Hassan and Beckman met last year when the senator sat down in Manchester with a group of New Hampshire residents affected by surprise medical bills. The senator is leading efforts in Congress to address surprise medical bills that pose a financial burden for patients such as Beckman.
Following the State of the Union address, Hassan said in a statement that she appreciates the president touched on a number of issues facing hardworking Americans, including the need to lower skyrocketing prescription drug costs. The senator said she also felt “encouraged by the president’s previous comments on the need to address surprise medical bills.”
“It’s very troubling, however, that the president barely mentioned the opioid crisis that remains the number one public health and safety challenge facing New Hampshire and states across the country,” Hassan said in the statement. “We cannot lose sight of this epidemic, and I will keep working across party lines to help ensure that those on the front lines have the support they need to save lives.”
According to her office, Hassan has been a leader in efforts to address surprise medical bills and is working with members from both parties to reach a solution.
Hassan’s approach would protect patients with medical emergencies from surprise billing by prohibiting hospitals and providers from charging more than the in-network amount, according to the senator’s office.
Her plan would protect patients in nonemergency situations from surprise bills by requiring hospitals and providers to notify patients if services would be out of network and receive their consent.