“No Surprise Charges” is one of the key Lessons Learned in Elisabeth Rosenthal’s fabulous new book AN AMERICAN SICKNESS (Penguin Press, 2017). “Hospitals in your network should also be required to guarantee that all doctors who treat you are in your insurance network.”
We have all harshly experienced or heard about under-the counter out-of-network hospital charges:
(A) “A Kaiser Family Foundation survey finds that among insured, non-elderly adults struggling with medical bill problems, charges from out-of-network providers were a contributing factor about one-third of the time. Further, nearly 7 in 10 of individuals with unaffordable out-of-network medical bills did not know the health care provider was not in their plan’s network at the time they received care.”
(B) A new study that looked at more than 2 million emergency department visits found that more than 1 in 5 patients who went to ERs within their health-insurance networks ended up being treated by an “out-of-network” doctor — and thus exposed to additional charges not covered by their insurance plan.”
Here is a brief case study:
“When Janet Wolfe was admitted to the hospital near Macon, Georgia, a few years ago, her lungs were functioning at just one-fifth their normal capacity. The problem: graft-versus-host disease, a complication from a stem cell transplant she received to treat lymphoma. Over the course of three days she saw three different doctors. Unbeknownst to Janet and her husband, Andrew, however, none of them was in her health plan’s network of providers. That led the insurer to pay a smaller fraction of those doctors’ bills, leaving the couple with some hefty charges.” (C)
So what can you do to avoid out-of-network charges? (D)
– Speak with a practice representative before being seen to understand the costs of seeing your doctor on an out-of-network or a cash basis. (DOCTOR note: maybe you need to leave and go to an in-network physician instead)
– If you need additional services, such as surgery, imaging or physical therapy, ask your doctor to refer you to an in-network facility to keep your costs down.
A New York law is a great start toward transparency to reduce out-of-network surprises.
Under a recent New York law, Hold Harmless Protections for Insured Patients, “… patients are generally protected from owing more than their in-network copayment, coinsurance or deductible on bills they receive for out-of-network emergency services or on surprise bills.
A bill is considered a surprise if consumers receive services without their knowledge from an out-of-network doctor at an in-network hospital or ambulatory surgical center, among other things. In addition, if consumers are referred to out-of-network providers but don’t sign a written consent form saying they understand the services will be out of network and may result in higher out-of-pocket costs, it’s considered a surprise bill. (E)
(A) Surprise Medical Bills by Karen Pollitz, kkf.org, http://kff.org/private-insurance/issue-brief/surprise-medical-bills/
(B) Many get hit with surprise ‘out-of-network’ bill after emergency rooms: Study” by Dan Mangan, CNBC, http://www.cnbc.com/2016/11/16/many-get-hit-with-surprise-out-of-network-bill-after-emergency-rooms-study.html
(C) When Out-Of-Network Charges Pop Up, Try An Appeal, by Michelle Andrews, NPR, http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2011/06/21/137304710/when-out-of-network-charges-pop-up-try-an-appeal
(D) What It Means If Your Doctor is Out of Network, by Sergio Viroslav, Angie’s list, https://www.angieslist.com/articles/what-it-means-if-your-doctor-out-network.htm
(E) N.Y. Law Offers Model For Helping Consumers Avoid Surprise Out-Of-Network Charges by Michelle Andrews, KHN http://khn.org/news/n-y-law-offers-model-for-helping-consumers-avoid-surprise-out-of-network-charges/