Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) welcomes the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announcement of an interim final rule regarding surprise billing protections, to take effect on January 1, 2022. This rule is a major element of the implementation of the No Surprises Act, which was passed in December as part of the omnibus spending bill. It will eliminate surprise medical bills which have devastated American consumers for far too long.
Patients can be vulnerable to surprise medical bills when they unknowingly receive out-of-network care. This often happens in emergencies, where a patient does not have the luxury to choose an in-network provider, or when an out-of-network doctor such as an anesthesiologist provides ancillary care at an in-network facility. These charges can lead to sky-high bills for patients, often while they are dealing with unforeseen circumstances. Patients frequently forgo necessary care in fear of receiving surprise bills that could possibly subject them to medical debt. Surprise medical bills negatively impact patients, employers and taxpayers, leading to $40 billion in premium increases every year because certain providers can leverage their ability to leave the network for higher reimbursement rates.
Thankfully, the No Surprises Act and the new rule announced by HHS put a stop to most of these surprise billing practices, promising a major victory for consumers. The new rule:
- Prohibits out-of-network cost-sharing for emergency care that is higher than in-network rates
- Prohibits out-of-network charges for ancillary care provided at an in-network facility
- Prohibits surprise billing for out-of-network air ambulance services
- Requires advance notice and patient authorization for non-emergency care performed out-of-network
Under these new protections, consumers will be “held harmless,” and will gain relief from unscrupulous surprise charges. The requirements for transparency in billing and advance notice for out-of-network care will allow consumers to play a greater role in their own healthcare and ensure that they are safeguarded from unexpected costs while seeking care.
NCL applauds members of Congress and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra for their bipartisan leadership in passing these protections into law and implementing the new rule. The No Surprises Act had been in legislative limbo for years, with no definitive agreement in place for its passage. The work of Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), and Patty Murray (D-WA) and former Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), alongside Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and former Representative Greg Walden (R-OR) to at last secure the passage of the No Surprises Act is applauded. Their efforts will result in desperately needed protections for American consumers and fix one of the many flaws in America’s healthcare system.
As stated by Secretary Becerra, “Health insurance should offer patients peace of mind that they won’t be saddled with unexpected costs. The Biden-Harris Administration remains committed to ensuring transparency and affordable care, and with this rule, Americans will get the assurance of no surprises.” This rule will protect consumers and lead to a better functioning healthcare system. We hope that Secretary Becerra will continue to build on the positives of the new interim rule as HHS develops the final rule to implement the No Surprises Act and give healthcare consumers the protections that they deserve.
About the National Consumers League
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.