Californias Still Awaiting Deal on Desperately Needed COVID-19 Aid; Health Advocates Also Urge Solution to Surprise Medical Bills

For Immediate Release: Friday, December 18, 2020

Anthony Wright, executive director, Health Access California,, 916-870-4782 (cell)
Rachel Linn Gish, director of communications, Health Access California,, 916-532-2128 (cell)



  • If included in congressional COVID-19 relief bill, compromise deal would stop surprise medical bills for six million Californians now at risk for these bills, but exempt from state patient protections.
  • The proposed federal deal would stop surprise medical bills from emergency rooms for all Americans, but also keep in place California’s four year-old landmark law against surprise medical bills from out-of-network physicians, AB 72. Health Access’ 2019 report described the positive impacts of that state law, which goes further than the federal deal in preventing inflated health prices.  

SACRAMENTO, CA – As the Christmas break looms, health and consumer advocates expressed frustration that Congress has yet to pass or come to final agreement on needed COVID-19 financial and health relief. Reports indicate that key elements will not be included in the relief package, such as state and local aid to maintain key health and other vital services. Health advocates also urged that the final package include the announced compromise to stop surprise medical bills, a long sought solution to ensure patients don’t get unexpected out-of-network bills from health providers, which can often be in the hundreds or thousands of dollars.

ON THE OVERALL PACKAGE: “California families are struggling more than ever after months of the pandemic-induced economic downturn, and need relief now. It’s distressing that the package Congress is negotiating does not include key pieces, such as direct assistance to help families get and stay covered, necessary funds for an equitable vaccine distribution, as well as state and local aid to maintain key health and other vital services. Congress must do more to help those facing unemployment and homelessness and ensure that every one can access vital care and resources so that we can finally emerge from this health crisis,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, the statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition.

ON SURPRISE MEDICAL BILLS: “During this pandemic and after, patients need the security of not getting a surprise medical bill when they seek needed care but find out that their provider is out-of-network. The current deal announced by Congress would stop these unexpected medical bills for all Americans, including the 7 million Californians currently excluded from our state protections, and should be prioritized for passage before the end of the year. The federal law importantly allows California’s stronger patient protections against surprise bills to stay in place, but fills in crucial gaps such as those visiting emergency rooms and needing air ambulances,” said Yasmin Peled, policy advocate with Health Access California.

report released last year by Health Access showed the success of California’s compromise solution to stop surprise medical bills (AB 72). The report demonstrates how the three year old law has been successful in protecting patients from surprise bills which occur when patients go to an in-network hospital or facility but then get a bill from an out-of-network doctor. These bills come as a surprise to the consumer who did the right thing by going to an in-network facility or who sought emergency treatment, and can often be hundreds or thousands of dollars or more. While the report highlights the success in stopping surprise medical bills, many Californians need a federal solution. In California alone there are five and a half million people who do not fall under the protections of AB 72 due to federal pre-emptions. Another million are in plans not regulated at the DMHC and thus are at risk of surprise emergency room bills.

“No American should face financial ruin when getting an unfair out-of-network bill—especially when the patient did the right thing, either responding in an emergency situation or finding an in-network facility,” said Peled. “Congressional action is urgently needed to prevent these surprise bills for millions of Californians and all Americans.”