Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, several years ago launched a campaign against the surprise medical bills that patients get from out-of-network health care providers.On Thursday, Chuck Bell, programs director for Consumers Union, commended New Jersey lawmakers “for developing a comprehensive new law to protect patients against surprise medical bills for out-of-network care.”
Bell said in a survey by Consumers Union found one-third of Americans report having received a surprise medical bill in the last two years.
“Surprise medical bills are harsh, unreasonable and unfair hardships for patients and their families,” Bell said. “We have heard from over 50 New Jersey patients who have received surprise out-of-network medical bills, some for as much as $3,000, $7,000 and even $20,000. Patient often remain mired in financial disputes over surprise bills that drag on for months, and unpaid bills may be referred to collection agencies.”
The following are some of the stories that Consumers Union has heard from New Jerseyans; the anecdotes do not identify the patient, the medical providers or hospitals:
- A pregnant Fair Lawn woman went into the hospitals to have a C-section. “My hospital was in-network, my doctor was in-network. But the anesthesia group was not in-network. How am I supposed to have a C-section without anesthesia? I was billed $800.”
- A Bergenfield man had his wisdom teeth removed by an in-network doctor at an in-network facility, then got a $400 bill from the out-of-network pathologist.
- A Union City woman scheduled surgery at an in-network hospital for December 2014. The surgery was delayed until January 2015 — and, by then, the hospital had left the network, and she was hit with $20,000 in hospital bills.
- A Hardwick woman had a breast cancer biopsy at an in-network hospital, then got a $1,300 bill from the out-of-network laboratory where the biopsy was sent.
- A Hamburg man had cancer surgery by an in-network doctor at an in-network hospital, then received a $9,000 bill from the physician’s assistant who worked with the surgeon in the OR.
Bell said that, more than two weeks ago, some 1,900 Consumers Union activists wrote to New Jersey legislators, asking for their support for new consumer protections against surprise bills.
“It is imperative that legislators approve strong measures to create a comprehensive solution to this problem,” he said. “While we appreciate that health plans, hospitals and providers will try to influence and shape the debate over this bill, because it affects how much providers are paid, surprise medical bills are a front-of-mind, hot-button consumer issue. Consumers, employers and taxpayers pay the medical bills in this country, and they are the key stakeholders in this debate.”
Bell said Consumers Union supported the New York law that took April 1 and provides consumer protection against these surprise medical bills. Like the bill introduced Thursday in Trenton, New York’s law provides an arbitration procedure for disputed out-of-network bills.
Bell said of the New Jersey legislation, “We really have to make sure it does actually work and reduce the number of complaints and bad experiences for consumers, because if it doesn’t, we’ll continue to hear from people and we’ll continue to make noise about the issue.”
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