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Uptick in surprise medical billing prompts legislation push in Mississippi

Source: AP
Source: AP(WTOK)
Published: Feb. 12, 2020 at 12:19 PM CST
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Have you ever had a surprise medical bill? You open your mail and find a bill for a doctor’s visit you thought was covered by insurance. It’s not just frustrating, but, in many cases, it’s illegal in Mississippi.

When you’re sick or on your way to the ER, the cost is probably the last thing on your mind, especially if you have insurance.

“The insurance company will pay a network rate, which is a favorable rate to that healthcare provider whether it’s a doctor or hospital and they can’t balance bill you for any other charges,” explained Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney.

But it’s not always that cut and dried.

Sometimes a hospital or doctor charges you the difference between the amount they charge and what your insurance pays. When you get a bill for the difference, it’s called “balance billing."

“It’s often called surprise billing,” added Chaney.

You may have gotten a bill like that which surprised you, but thought it was just the way things work. But did you know it’s illegal in Mississippi and has been since 2013?

“The law just says you can’t balance bill," noted Chaney. "It doesn’t say who’s responsible for stopping it. I became the de facto policeman to stop balance billing or surprise billing to protect folks.”

The insurance commissioner’s office gets a lot of calls about the issue and hears the horror stories.

“We had air ambulances that would bill people 50, 60, $70,000 after they’d picked them up and flown them somewhere and even taken an assignment from the insurance," he explained. "And if you didn’t pay it, they’d ruin your credit.”

Now, they’re seeking to add more enforcement powers to the law and make it easier for the commissioner’s office to intervene.

“If you put teeth into the bill, what happens is that providers just quit balance billing,” Chaney added.

House Bill 95 has passed the Mississippi House and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

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