Rights and Protections Against Surprise Medical Bills
When you see a doctor or other health care provider, you may owe certain out-of-pocket costs, such as a copayment, coinsurance, and/or a deductible. You may have other costs or have to pay the entire bill if you see a provider or visit a health care facility that isn’t in your health plan’s network.
What is balance billing or surprised billing?
Balanced Billing: Out-of-network providers may be permitted to bill you for the difference between what your plan agreed to pay and the full amount charged for a service.
This amount is likely more than in-network costs for the same service and might not count toward your annual out-of-pocket limit.
Surprise billing: an unexpected balance bill. This can happen when you can’t control who is involved in your care—like when you have an emergency or when you schedule a visit at an in-network facility but are unexpectedly treated by an out-of-network provider.
When is balance billing not allowed?
Emergency services: If you have an emergency medical condition and get emergency services from an out-of-network provider or facility, the most the provider or facility may bill you is your plan’s in-network cost-sharing amount (such as copayments and coinsurance). You can’t be balance billed for these emergency services. This includes services you may get after you’re in stable condition, unless you give written consent and give up your protections not to be balanced billed for these post-stabilization services.
Certain services at an in-network hospital or ambulatory surgical center: When you get services from an in-network hospital or ambulatory surgical center, certain providers there may be out-of-network. In these cases, the most those providers may bill you is your plan’s in-network cost-sharing amount. This applies to emergency medicine, anesthesia, pathology, radiology, laboratory, neonatology, assistant surgeon, hospitalist, or intensivist services. These providers can’t balance bill you and may not ask you to give up your protections not to be balance billed. If you get other services at these in-network facilities, out-of-network providers can’t balance bill you, unless you give written consent and give up your protections
When balance billing isn’t allowed, you also have the following protections:
You are only responsible for paying your share of the cost (like the copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles that you would pay if the provider or facility was in-network). Your health plan will pay out-of-network providers and facilities directly.
Your health plan generally must:
Cover emergency services without requiring you to get approval for services in advance (prior authorization).
Cover emergency services by out-of-network providers.
Base what you owe the provider or facility (cost-sharing) on what it would pay an in-network provider or facility and show that amount in your explanation of benefits.
Count any amount you pay for emergency services or out-of-network services toward your deductible and out-of-pocket limit
You’re never required to give up your protection from balance billing. You also aren’t required to get care out-of-network. You can choose a provider or facility in your plan’s network.
If you believe you have been wrongly billed:
File a grievance/complaint with your health plan and include a copy of the bill. If you do not agree with your health plan’s response or they take more than 30 days to fix the problem, you can file a complaint with the Department of Managed Health Care, the state regulator of health plans. You can file a complaint by visiting www.HealthHelp.ca.gov or calling 1-888-466-2219.