Taking the surprise out of surprise billing

CALAAEM News Service calaaem.news.service at gmail.com
Thu May 9 11:05:12 PDT 2019



 

May 9, 2019

 

Taking the surprise out of surprise billing

 

 
<https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/healthcare/442518-taking-the-surpri
se-out-of-surprise-billing> The Hill

 

BY DR. BARBARA L. MCANENY

05/07/19 

 

Too many patients are suffering from sticker shock when they receive bills
for their visits to the emergency room.

 

The American Medical Association believes patients should not be caught in
the middle of what is essentially a billing dispute between insurers and
providers.

 

Patients aren't responsible for unanticipated out-of-network medical bills.
Patients who seek emergency care - or who otherwise lack the chance to
select their provider - should not bear costs above those they would face
had they been seen by an in-network provider. Much like patients who may not
have an opportunity to choose a physician in their network in an emergency,
physicians often have little information on which networks patients have
joined - but are legally and ethically compelled to provide care regardless
of a patient's coverage.

 

The insurance industry must own up to its role in springing these surprises.
Most health insurance markets are highly concentrated, and the number of
cities is increasing where a single insurer holds a market share of at least
50 percent. This undermines incentives for these insurers to negotiate
payment rates in good faith. In fact, lower payment rates and higher patient
co-payments and deductibles that plans impose for out-of-network care can
financially benefit the plan when patients are unable to obtain care from an
in-network physician.

 

Let's consider solutions. The goal is to determine a fair payment from an
insurer to a provider, while protecting patients from the financial
consequences of an insurance network that does not have an adequate number
of providers under contract.

 

Network adequacy is a prime consideration here. A physician's out-of-network
status is not always due to a disagreement over payment rates. Many
physicians who wish to join a network are not offered contracts to do so,
while others already participating are dropped without cause or explanation.
Often, patients will select a health plan based on whether their preferred
providers are in-network, only to experience a midyear network contraction.
That means patients would have to accept higher out-of-pocket costs if they
wished to keep their preferred physician.

 

To serve a community, an adequate network should include a proper ratio of
hospital-based physicians as well as on-call specialists and subspecialists.
Overly narrow provider networks - particularly those that lack sufficient
numbers of specialists - are a major factor in unanticipated billing. The
AMA believes state insurance commissioners and the federal government need
to provide strong oversight and enforcement to ensure network adequacy.

 

At the same time, provider directories must be accurate and up to date so
patients can make informed decisions when purchasing a health plan - and use
the services of in-network providers whenever possible once that plan is in
place. Providers need the same level of accuracy from health plans so they
can refer patients to in-network specialists when further care is needed.

 

Transparency will enable patients to make prudent decision. When scheduling
services, providers should inform patients of the anticipated charges - and
insurers should make it clear to patients what portion of those charges they
intend to cover.

 

In circumstances where payment rates themselves are the root of the problem,
mechanisms can be put in place to arrive at a fair compromise. Some states
tie out-of-network benchmark payment rates to a percentage of local charges
determined by an independent claims data base. Others have established a
binding arbitration process that incentivizes both providers and insurers to
reach agreement on more realistic payment rates. In both situations, the
dispute over rates is kept between the provider and the insurer, with the
patient held harmless.

 

The AMA recognizes the financial burden an unanticipated bill can impose on
individuals and families, and we support solutions that hold patients
harmless when care from an out-of-network provider is unavoidable. We look
forward to working with all members of Congress, and with lawmakers at the
state level, to craft a workable solution that protects patients while
treating providers and payers equitably.

 

Barbara L. McAneny, MD, is president of the American Medical Association

 

 

 

Brian Potts MD, MBA
Managing Editor, CAL/AAEM News Service

 

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