Stories from You: Anti-Cancer Advocate Receives Surprise Medical Bill in the Golden State

Conor Laing
Assistant Policy Analyst

Friday, May 13th, 2016

A year ago, Cassie Ray, an employee of the American Cancer Society and a Consumers Union story sharer, needed a minor surgery as part of her own cancer treatment.  She did her homework and went to an Oakland hospital in her insurance network and made sure all her doctors would be in-network.  And all of her doctors were in-network.

Except the anesthesiologist.

Even after doing everything right, Cassie ended up on the hook for a $600 surprise out-of-network medical bill from a doctor she never met.  She spent 8 months fighting this unfair bill.  In the meantime, her unfair bill was sent to collections and impacted her credit score.  Only just recently has Cassie been able to resolve her surprise bill and credit report.  She’s not alone.  Our survey on surprise medical bills found that 30 percent of Americans with private insurance have received a surprise medical bill in the past two years.

Surprise medical bills are not the product of some conspiracy.  Rather, they are the result of endless bickering between doctors and health insurers about what the payment to doctors for medical services should be.  As our Director of Special Projects Betsy Imholz puts it: “Everybody points their finger at everybody else in our healthcare system and the consumer is unfortunately left in the middle.”

But consumers don’t have to be stuck in the middle.  The California Legislature is considering AB 533 which would protect consumers against these outrageous surprise bills.  AB 533 would ensure that, as Betsy explains, “You would not have to pay anything but the in-network cost-sharing, and any amounts you did pay to any provider would count towards your in-network deductible and out-of-pocket maximum.”

Are you ready to end surprise medical bills in California? Sign our petition!

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