FIGHT CONTINUES TO STOP SURPRISE EMERGENCY ROOM BILLS, AS AB 1611 BECOMES 2-YEAR BILL DUE TO HOSPITAL OPPOSITION
* As hospital industry lobbyists oppose the key patient protections in AB 1611, health consumer and labor groups decide to hold bill this year to allow more time to build legislative support.
* Consumer, labor, health, insurer, and business supporters of AB 1611 vow a continued campaign for a solution–at the state or federal level–that truly protects Californians from receiving outrageous ER bills and prevents higher priced premiums.
* After many high-profile stories of patients receiving emergency room bills of tens of thousands of dollars, the need for AB 1611 remains urgent and supporters plan to come back next year with redoubled efforts.
SACRAMENTO, CA – Consumer, health, labor and business advocates, working with key legislators, chose to hold AB 1611 (Chiu, Weiner) from a hearing in Senate Health Committee and make it into a 2-year bill, vowing to continue the fight to stop surprise emergency room bills with a bigger effort next year. The legislation faced opposition from hospital industry lobbyists who sought to remove key patient protections in the bill that would subject California patients to higher premiums. AB 1611 gained broad national and state-wide media exposure, a broad coalition of support, and grassroots energy, including from patients who experienced such bills.
“Due to the hospital industry’s opposition, California consumers will have to wait another year for protections against surprise medical bills when visiting an emergency room. The hospital lobby opposed any patient protection in AB 1611 unless they are able to charge whatever they want, leveraging the monopoly they have in emergency situations,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a co-sponsor of AB 1611 along with the California Labor Federation. “California health consumers demand that they are protected from surprise ER bills as well as high premiums due to hospital charges. We will continue to fight for the strongest bill possible that protects Californians from being squeezed by high hospital bills and high premiums.”
“The rising cost of health care leaves working people living on the edge knowing that one outrageous bill could lead to financial ruin,” said California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski. “AB 1611 tackled head on one of the biggest problems in health care affordability, skyrocketing emergency room prices. It’s deeply disappointing that hospital lobbyists spent heavily to derail this much-needed legislation. Today is not the end. We’ll continue to work to pass this crucial legislation and won’t be deterred by deep-pocketed hospital CEOs and their army of lobbyists. This issue is simply too important to ignore.”
For the majority of consumers, California law requires a health plan to cover the cost of the emergency care a patient receives whether or not a hospital is in-network. However, there is still a giant gap in state law. Specifically, six million Californians with federally regulated health plans and one million Californians with coverage regulated by the California Department of Insurance are at risk for surprise emergency room bills because they are not covered by these important consumer protections. AB 1611 seeks to close this loophole while also ensuring that hospitals receive a fair reimbursement rate for the care they provide.
“We won’t give up. Californians can’t afford surprise emergency room bills nor the inflated premiums that would result from letting hospitals charge a monopoly price.” said Wright. “This issue has stirred national outrage and the bipartisan proposals in Congress have been strong in both protecting patients and offering a benchmark rate for providers to get reimbursed fairly. If there isn’t an appropriate federal fix this year, we will redouble our efforts for a strong state solution next year, so Californians can go to the ER without worry of a surprise bill and premium increases.”