Consumer advocates relaunch efforts to end surprise bills in California

Conor Laing
Assistant Policy Analyst

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

Michael Dondero had a successful surgery for a hernia last year.  Well, successful except for the surprise out-of-network medical bill he received for $771. As Michael put it, “I just assumed an in-network procedure at an in-network hospital would be covered. But you know what happens when we assume.”  

Luckily, Michael was able to negotiate his surprise medical bill into a smaller amount, but not all Californians are so lucky.  A survey conducted by our colleagues at the Consumer Reports National Research Center found that about one in four Californians with private insurance have received a surprise medical bill.

This week, Consumers Union joined other consumer and patient advocates to re-launch our efforts to prevent Californians from facing surprise medical bills.  On Monday, March 21, we joined Health Access California and the California Labor Federation, and two Californians affected by surprise out-of-network bills for a teleconference to push for legislative action to end surprise bills this year.Since the failure of the legislature to act last year, California consumers continue to receive surprise medical bills from out-of-network providers after using in-network medical facilities. Consumers Union Director of Special Projects Betsy Imholz urged CA to protect consumers this year by passing AB 533, which would prohibit consumers from being balanced billed when they receive health services from an in-network hospital.

Last year, surprise billing protections fell just three votes short of passing in the California Assembly.  And because the bill did not pass, thousands of Californians have received surprise medical bills in the last year.  AB 533 is pending on the floor of the California Assembly. As Anthony Wright of Health Access California explains, “we are relaunching this effort to get it through, with a new co-sponsor and new commitments and new energy; continued conversation with stakeholders.  With your help we can end surprise medical bills in California!

Do you live in California and want to see an end to unfair medical bills that cost you hard-earned money? Sign our petition here and we will keep you updated on ways you can get involved locally. Have you been hit with a surprise medical bill? Share your story.

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