AB 716 (Boerner) builds on California’s strong patient protections against surprise medical bills by extending them to also include ambulance bills
Bill was heard in Assembly Emergency Management committee TODAY at 2:30pm, where it passed 6-0.
***Impacted consumer stories available upon request***
SACRAMENTO, CA – Building on nearly a decade of work to protect Californians from surprise medical bills, the state Assembly heard today for the first time AB 716 by Assemblymember Tasha Boerner to close a gap in the law that still allows consumers to receive surprise bills for ground ambulance services. When consumers receive a bill for an out-of-network cost they were unaware of, it can be financially destabilizing, especially for low- and moderate-income Californians who lack significant savings. As a result, some may not call 911 for legitimate fear of the bill, putting their health at risk.
AB 716 prohibits ambulance providers from sending a patient any bill beyond the in-network cost-sharing amount. It will also give consumers more time to pay their bill before being sent to collections.
An impacted Californian from Clovis shared her surprise ambulance bill story at today’s hearing. Additional consumer stories are available upon request.
“During a medical emergency, no one should worry if calling 911 will result in a large bill from an ambulance provider. In those stressful situations, Californians should only be focusing on getting the immediate health care they need, not if they will face medical debt,” said Katie Van Deynze, policy and legislative advocate with Health Access California, the sponsor of the bill. “With AB 716, Californians will have more financial security during and after a medical emergency and will be less hesitant to call 911 out of fear of a large surprise bill.”
“The last thing anyone should be thinking about during a medical emergency is whether they can afford the ambulance ride,” said Assemblymember Boerner. “AB 716 will prevent consumers from being hit with those surprise bills for ground ambulance service, protect the uninsured, and help ensure that the costs are better covered for the heroic work of our firefighters and paramedics.”
Existing state and federal law prohibit ground ambulance surprise billing for patients with Medi-Cal and Medicare coverage. Yet state law explicitly allows ambulance providers to surprise bill consumers with commercial coverage. A surprise bill happens when a person does the right thing by seeking in-network care but is unknowingly seen by an out-of-network provider for a service. In the case of ambulances, the consumer has no choice whether the ambulance that arrives is contracted with their health plan, resulting in many surprise bills, often of $1,000 or more. The consumer then ends up responsible for the charges from the out-of-network ambulance provider that their health plan or insurer won’t pay. Ambulances have the highest-out-network billing rate in the country, adding up to $129 million spent by insured patients on ambulance surprise bills every year nationally.
While protecting consumers, AB 716 also ensures that ambulance providers are reimbursed adequately for their services, similar to how they are under existing local rate-setting processes. It also protects uninsured Californians from being billed an inflated rate for an ambulance ride, and will only charge them the Medi-Cal or Medicare rate for the service, whichever is greater.
By taking the consumer out of the middle, AB 716 will prevent consumers from being charged an out-of-network surprise bill for ground ambulance services and protect uninsured Californians from being charged inflated ambulance rates.
AB 716 was heard today at 2:30pm in the Assembly Emergency Management committee where it passed 6-0. It will be heard in Assembly Health committee next week.