“Grace and Frankie” character gets attacked by a surprise medical bill

Elizabeth (Betsy) Imholz
Director, Special Projects

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

You know a consumer problem has reached the boiling point when it hits Hollywood.  In 1998, it was the backlash against HMOs as gatekeepers. The hit movie “As Good As It Gets” caused spontaneous audience whoops and applause when the protagonist, played by Helen Hunt, lashed out at the managed care industry with a string of expletives. This came as Congress was considering a “Patient’s Bill of Rights.”

Fast forward to episode 2 of last week’s Season 2 premiere of Netflix series “Grace and Frankie.” A lead character Sol is shocked by a surprise bill for an out-of-network doctor he never requested on his husband’s case whom they never even met:

Sol (Sam Waterston): So the money you say we owe is for a special surgeon our surgeon called in during my husband’s surgery who is not in our network?

Hospital clerk: That is correct.

Sol: Whom we didn’t know about? And never met?

Hospital clerk: That is correct.

Sol: But had we known about this surgeon, in the time it would have taken to be janked around and rejected by insurance, my husband would have DIED on the TABLE.

Hospital clerk: But then you wouldn’t owe $35,000.

Sol: Look, my husband had a heart attack. If he sees this bill he’s going to have another, which can’t happen, because he’s gotta get healthy…. What if we refuse to pay?

Hospital clerk: Interesting question. No one’s ever been clever enough to try that before. (snickers.) Actually, the hospital will sue you and come after your wages. Who’s next? (looking at the other people in line).

Shows like “Grace and Frankie” poke fun at surprise medical bills because they truly are ridiculous. Yet this cavalier treatment, and accompanying nasty surprises, are all too common in California.

A bill pending in the California Legislature, AB 533, would protect consumers who receive surgery and other healthcare procedures; if they go to an in-network hospital, they would be charged only in-network costs for providers whose services they get at that hospital, regardless of whether the doctor has a contract with the patient’s health plan. And those payments would count toward their in-network deductible and out-of-pocket maximum. Plus it would ban balance billing, the unfair practice that leaves Californians on the hook for out-of-network surprise medical bills. Let your Senator and Assemblyperson know they need to fix the surprise bills problem in California this year! If you are among the growing number of Californians shocked by surprise medical bills, share your story now. Together, we will win the protections that Californians need today.

If you happen to catch surprise medical bills on your favorite TV show, let us know about it in the comments!

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