Balance billing legislation moves forward in Austin

A bill that is part of what appears to be a sustained legislative effort against freestanding ERs passed the full Senate yesterday, 29-2. SB 507 is focused on balance billing, including bringing such emergency facilities under the fold of the state’s current mediation process for consumers to protest such “surprise bills” from providers.

The legislation is an extension of Senator Kelly Hancock’s previous legislative work on the topic. However, the attention being paid to the impact on freestanding ER patients is clear, as seen for example in the Twitter activity of “Texans for Affordable Health Care,” a coalition that includes the Texas Association of Health Plans and the Texas Association of Business:

Senator Hancock had this to say afterward:

[W]ith the Senate’s passage of SB 507, we’re one step closer to expanding mediation protections to more Texas patients. This legislation would allow mediation of balance bills from all types of out-of-network providers treating patients at in-network hospitals and other facilities, including the booming industry of freestanding emergency rooms. I’m confident our colleagues in the House will recognize the value of this legislation, and hope to see it become law this year.

Between the strength of the bill’s passage, the movement of its House counterpart, and the broad coalition of support behind the issue (see, for example, the Center for Public Policy Priorities’s multimedia work on “surprise medical billing”), Senator Hancock’s legislation appears to be headed to the Governor’s desk for signature at some point.

Even as the legislation moves forward, freestanding ERs in particular continue to fight back:

Smoke and mirrors. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

There is a lot going on in the Texas Legislature surrounding “surprise bills” and “Freestanding Emergency Rooms”. The insurance industry would have the Texas Legislature and the public believe that they care about the wellbeing of Texans and that they care about keeping healthcare “affordable” for patients.  However, nothing could be further from the truth.

We hear of “mediation” that will solve all of the problems for Texans against the ER doctors and their independent practices that save lives 24/7/365. Reality? 60% of commercially insured patients in Texas won’t benefit at all from anything that the Texas Legislature does. Why? Their health insurance is provided by their employer and their employer self-funds the claims. This means that the company pays the expenses for employees as they come up.

It doesn’t appear that push back will be able to stop SB 507 from moving forward. Perhaps it can thwart other bills to reign in freestanding ERs, such as Senator Charles Schwertner’s SB 1592 that allows higher administrative penalties against the such ERs, or Senator Hancock’s SB 2064  setting an interesting bar for “unconscionable prices” charged at emergency facilities.