On Tuesday, April 16th Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital announced a proposal to be considered by the San Francisco Health Commission to end the practice of “balance billing,” where insured patients get billed the remaining balance after insurer payment of an emergency room bill. This practice can leave patients with bills in the tens of thousands of dollars. The California Legislature this year introduced AB 1611 (Chiu) to end this practice and it is set for it’s first hearing in the Assembly Health Committee on Tuesday, April 23rd. This bill builds on 2016’s AB 72, which prevented this practice in other health facilities. The issue of surprise medical bills is much bigger than one hospital or one city.
AB 1611 (Chiu), would end surprise emergency room bills that are not just unfair, but can send a family’s finances into a free-fall. Patients are doing everything right in seeking care during an emergency. When you or a loved are on a gurney in an ambulance, you are in no position to choose what emergency room you end up at, and you certainly should not get any extra or inflated charges if the hospital happens to be out-of-network. The bill closes loopholes in California’s otherwise strong consumer protections against surprise medical bills, taking the patient out of the middle of billing disputes between hospitals and insurers. After experiencing the trauma of an emergency, this bill helps ensure that patients and their families don’t face the additional trauma of an outrageous and unfair hospital bill.
With backing from patient, consumer, community, labor, and other organizations, AB 1611 (Chiu) will be heard next Tuesday, April 23rd in the Assembly Health Committee.