Surprise medical bills are all too common for Oklahomans today. It is nearly impossible to know how much a medical service or procedure will cost beforehand. Oklahoma families are left in the dark until weeks or months later when the piles of different bills arrive from the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, the radiologist and the lab, filled with confusing medical coding.
Some insured patients are subject to additional exorbitant bills from “out-of-network” providers, even if their procedure was performed at an “in-network” facility.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, on average, 20% of emergency visits in Oklahoma resulted in at least one out-of-network charge in 2017. In some cases, after the pile of inflated bills arrive, select Oklahoma hospitals aggressively go after their former patients to collect payment.
According to Oklahoma Watch journalist Trevor Brown, 22,250 lawsuits were filed against patients by 27 Oklahoma hospitals from January 2016 to July 2019.
Saint Francis Health System, a Catholic nonprofit group with eight hospitals, filed 4,969 lawsuits against former patients from January 2016 to July 2019, the highest number of filings from any hospital system in the state.
“Court filings show the hospital system filed 27 lawsuits a week on average. And in at least a half-dozen cases, Saint Francis sued and garnished wages from its own employees,” Brown reported.
As health care prices continue to rise, families cannot afford to be in the dark anymore. That is why OCPA supports Senate Bill 548. This proposed legislation will protect patients and encourage true price transparency by requiring medical providers to give patients a reliable cost estimate before services are rendered; if they do not oblige, the facility cannot seek payment through collections or garnish the patient’s wages.
Senate Bill 548 will ensure patients will not be caught off-guard with a surprise bill for medical services and procedures. This legislation provides an extra layer of protection for patients as they try to navigate the confusing world of medical billing.
Nearly every profession, from plumbing to legal services, provides price estimates to customers in advance. Why shouldn’t medical providers do the same?
Unleashing the free market and promoting price transparency is the only way to stop surprise medical billing, reduce costs, and fix America’s broken health care system.
Finley currently serves as a policy research fellow for OCPA with a focus on health care and welfare policy.