5 things to know about surprise billing during the COVID-19 pandemic 

Eric Oliver - Print  |

The days of surprise medical billing may be numbered due to emerging legislation around the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Here's a collection of recent information on surprise medical billing. 

1. Hospitals taking federal funds to treat COVID-19 patients could be banned from balance billing patients, according to HHS stipulations. 

HHS worded the ban to prevent health systems from sending balance bills to COVID-19 patients, but in the finer details of the bill, HHS wrote that it "broadly views every patient as a possible case of COVID-19." If hospitals sign the contract, they could be agreeing to halt all surprise medical bills for every patient during the pandemic, NPR reports.  

HHS made a statement to Kaiser Health News, saying, "The intent of the terms and conditions was to bar balance billing for actual or presumptive COVID-19. We are clarifying this in the terms and conditions." 

2. NPR explored the issue, finding the fine print could put an end, at least temporarily, to balance billing. While the practice is banned in several states, the federal government has never taken action against it. Some lobbyists argued HHS overstepped its power by including the provision. 

3. Individual states have also taken action to ensure health systems and patients are protected from surprise medical bills during the pandemic. Connecticut adopted a policy to ensure patients are protected from incurring surprise medical bills for treatments provided during the pandemic. Patients who would be out-of-network must be treated as in-network for emergency care provided during the pandemic. 

4. The American voting public views surprise medical bills as one of its top healthcare issues. Fifty-six percent of Americans said legislators should address surprise medical bills, according to a 2019 Kaiser Family Foundation Tracking Poll

5. Economic packages around COVID-19 could also spell the end of surprise medical bills on a permanent basis. According to Politico, leaders of two congressional health committees are attempting to include legislation that would end the practice in stimulus bills.

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