April 24, 2020
With Congress unable to reach an agreement on the surprise billing issue over the past year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services appears to have banned balance billing across the board during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Every patient is a possible COVID patient: The HHS guidance states that it “broadly views every patient as a possible case of COVID-19.” Taken literally, this would mean that throughout the pandemic, providers may not seek out-of-pocket payments from patients.
Reports of surprise bills: Patients have received unexpected medical bills as a result of seeking treatment for coronavirus even after earlier legislation stated testing and subsequent treatment would impose no cost sharing on patients. What was not considered was that the visit to the ER may not be covered or the fact that insurance policies are not one size fits all. Other considerations are that an in-network doctor may send a coronavirus test to an out-of-network lab, resulting in a balance bill to the patient.
Outlook: At a time when Americans are even more worried about their ability to pay everyday bills, the potential for a surprise medical bill would cause even more financial strife. The current circumstances may be what it takes for Congress to finally pass legislation on surprise billing.