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Legislation introduced to protect patients from surprise medical bills

State lawmakers introduced a bill that would help protect some Colorado patients from surprise medical bills

DENVER — Legislators appear optimistic that 2019 might finally be the year they pass legislation designed to tackle the issue of surprise medical billing.

“We’re going to get it done this year,” Rep. Daneya Esgar (D-Pueblo) confidently said Thursday.

Legislators introduced a pair of bills Thursday that will attempt to prohibit providers from sending balance bills to patients who visit hospitals in-network with their insurance plans. They’re called balance bills because they represent the “balance” of the provider’s bill that was left unpaid by the patient’s insurance company.

Many times, the bills can stretch well into the thousands of dollars.

RELATED: How you can visit the hospital, then get a lien on your home

Late last year, in the series “Lien on Me,” 9Wants to Know found on-call surgeons working inside Denver-area hospitals sending balance bills to their patients and using a collections company willing to place liens on home when the bills went unpaid. In less that two years, 9Wants to Know found more than 170 liens on Denver-area homes.

Rep. Esgar helped introduce HB-1174 on Thursday.

It represents the fifth attempt in as many years to pass legislation designed to protect patients from so-called surprise medical bills. Not once has similar legislation made it out of committee.

Democrats control both the House and Senate this year, and there is widespread belief 2019 will be the year that some sort of balance billing legislation makes its way to the Governor’s desk.

In addition, Sen. Jack Tate (R-Centennial) and Sen. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora) unveiled a separate piece of legislation that would also attempt to prevent patients in Colorado from receiving balance bills from providers they never chose.

It would provide a different level of reimbursement for providers who remain out-of-network with their patients’ insurance plans.

"By prohibiting surprise balance billing while also requiring health plans to fairly reimburse out-of-network providers, it takes away health plans’ incentive to push providers out-of-network as well as some providers’ incentive to remain out-of-network. Further, the bill will promote dialogue between all parties and assure patient access to quality care and a choice of doctors,” said Sen. Tate in a statement to 9Wants to Know.

For tips on this or any other story, email showusyourbills@9news.com.

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