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Stopping surprise hospital bills


Far too many Americans face out-of-control surprise medical bills, often for emergency care, despite the fact that they spend their hard-earned money on health insurance to protect them.

Patients wake up from surgery, expecting to pay their standard co-pay, only to find out the anesthesiologist was out-of-network. A doctor sends a sample out for analysis, unaware that the pathology lab doesn’t take the patient’s insurance, and the patient is responsible for covering the cost. In all of these cases, the patient doesn’t have the time or the information to make a choice to avoid a crippling medical bill.

Last week, I spoke to one Ohioan who was billed nearly $17,000 for emergency room care after a heart attack – despite having health insurance. He had even taken extra time to drive himself to an in-network hospital for his care. Weeks later, he received an outrageous bill because the emergency room doctor wasn’t considered an in-network provider under his insurance plan.

When you’re rushed to the hospital for a heart attack, the last thing you or your loved ones should have to worry about is whether the ambulance is taking you to an in-network hospital.

Millions of Americans are getting slapped with these surprise bills – up to a third of all patients with insurance, according to one recent study. That’s why I joined with Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Texas to introduce the End Surprise Billing Act.

The legislation would require informed consent from patients for scheduled services, before they’re treated by a provider not included on their insurance plan – that includes not just your doctor or surgeon, but the pathology lab, the anesthesiologist, and any other surprise costs that many patients don’t think of when they are simply focused on getting well.

And if it’s impossible for a patient to give consent or review billing options, like in the case of a medical emergency, the patient would only owe what he or she would have paid for an in-network provider.

Ohioans work hard and pay their insurance premiums every month to have peace of mind, and avoid the financially devastating situation of surprise medical bills. They shouldn’t have to worry that they’ll be stuck with out-of-control bills if they’re rushed to the emergency room.


By Sen. Sherrod Brown

Sen. Sherrod Brown represents Ohio in the Senate and is a guest columnist.