The Georgia Senate voted Wednesday, June 17 to approve legislation that would help patients avoid “surprise bills,” or unexpectedly high medical costs from receiving care from an out-of-network provider at an in-network facility.
House Bill 888 was introduced by State Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, in February, before the state legislature went on a three-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Senate passed it 53-0 Wednesday, and the Georgia House of Representatives passed the bill in March. Next it will go to Gov. Brian Kemp.
The bill received support from all of Hall County’s delegation in both chambers of the General Assembly.
If a patient goes to an in-network health care facility, they would be charged the in-network fee, even if their provider was out-of-network with their insurer.The insurer and provider would work out the difference, and the bill outlines an arbitration process through the Georgia Insurance Commissioner’s office.
For nonemergency services, like a regular checkup, patients would be given 48 hours notice before treatment if they have scheduled with an out-of-network provider. Patients could then decide to change their plans or pay extra.
The bill takes the patient out of the dispute over cost, Hawkins said, allowing them to receive treatment without having to worry about going back-and-forth with an insurer or provider.
Hawkins said the goal of the bill is alleviating the burden of medical costs on families and preventing bankruptcies stemming from health care expenses.
“I truly feel like this is going to be so good for patients,” Hawkins said. “It will take a load off families that already are stressed with trying to make ends meet, and with this pandemic and everything else going on, I think it’s a really good accomplishment that our legislature has made here to help people in this state.”
Officials with Northeast Georgia Health System were in contact with legislators as the bill was being written.
“We absolutely support patients having as much relevant information as possible when making decisions about their health care, as well as the premise of legislation that would help patients make decisions about elective procedures,” Deb Bailey, executive director of governmental affairs for NGHS, said in a statement in February.