Fight Against Surprise Medical Bills Gains Momentum in Legislature
By: Jenny Deam (Houston Chronicle)
The quest to protect Texans against “shock” medical billing gained momentum Monday as two similar, bi-partisan pieces of legislation were merged, taking the strongest aim yet at a business practice that continues to financially devastate unsuspecting patients.
“That’s why we’re here today, to show that House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats, have recognized the cries of our constituents,” said Sen. Kelly Hancock, a Republican from suburban Fort Worth, at an afternoon press conference. Hancock has now joined forces with Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat, and Reps. Tom Oliverson, R- Harris County and Trey Martinez Fischer, D- San Antonio.
Hancock has led the fight for a decade against patients being saddled with the remainder of a bill that insurance does not pay. On Feb. 28 he and Rep. Martinez Fischer introduced sweeping legislation that would stop all doctors from balance billing in emergency rooms as well as in any situation where a patient has no control over who treats them. Five days later, Whitmire and Oliverson, introduced their own version.
Both bills sought to remove patients from the middle of any dispute between insurers and providers. Under Texas’ current system it is patients who bear the burden of initiating the state-sponsored mediation system and then only a small percentage are eligible.
Rather than have the Hancock and Whitmire bills compete, the lawmakers said Monday they decided to merge their efforts to send a stronger, united message –especially to those who may oppose them.
Previously the powerful Texas Medical Association said it “strongly opposed” Hancock’s bill but favored other legislation protecting patients. There was no immediate comment from the medical group on the new version as it continued to study it Monday afternoon.
Under the conjoined bill, the state’s existing mediation system, in place since 2009 to settle disputed bills, will be replaced with “baseball style arbitration,” said Whitmire, who says he prefers the adjective “shock” to “surprise” when it comes to billing to better reflect the outrage.
“We’re just trying to get some true, honest billing,” he said.