Legislation to curb the practice of handing patients in Georgia unexpectedly high medical bills passed out of the General Assembly Wednesday.
It’s now in the hands of Gov. Brian Kemp.
The measure, House Bill 888, requires insurers to cover emergency services a patient receives, whether or not the provider is a participant in the patient’s insurance coverage network.
That arrangement removes hospital patients from the billing equation — leaving it to medical providers and insurance companies to settle their differences in a “baseball-style” arbitration process, said Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, who sponsored an identical measure in the Senate.
“This will let the health care providers and insurers take the patient out of the middle and take care of them,” said Hufstetler, R-Rome.
The House bill, brought by Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, passed unanimously out of the Senate Wednesday.
The governor’s office worked with Hawkins and Hufstetler on their measures and he is widely expected to sign it into law.
Dubbed “surprise” or “balance” billing, the extra hospital charges result from specialty procedures like anesthesiology or emergency-room surgery completed by out-of-network specialists. They can add hundreds or thousands of dollars to a patient’s final bill without their knowing in advance.
State lawmakers had tried for the past five years to tamp down surprise billing before Wednesday’s passage. Lawmakers involved in negotiations traced prior hold-ups to disagreements over how insurers and medical specialists should settle out-of-network costs, particularly if disputes arise that need formal arbitration.
Representatives of the Georgia Hospital Association and the Medical Association of Georgia testified, during a committee hearing Sunday, in support of the legislation as a good compromise.
Several lawmakers praised the bill Wednesday from the Senate floor, noting its protection provisions were a long time in coming as Georgians continued straining under big surprise hospital charges.
“This is the one piece of the health-care issue that must be dealt with,” said Sen. Zahra Karinshak, D-Duluth.
Sen. Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain, said she had received surprise bills for medical procedures in the past and was pleased to see the practice get an overhaul.
“No one wants to get a surprise bill,” Butler said. “You want to know what you owe.”