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Surprise! A solution to surprise medical bills signed into law

Colorado patients, long a target of surprise medical billing practices, find protection in a law that was signed by the Governor Tuesday.

PUEBLO, Colo. — Pledging to end what he called “a completely unfair” practice, on Tuesday Governor Jared Polis (D-Colorado) signed into law a measure that will force medical providers to stop sending so-called “surprise medical bills” directly to patients.

“So many Coloradans have experienced this,” Gov. Polis told 9Wants to Know right after signing House Bill 1174 during a Tuesday afternoon bill signing ceremony in Pueblo. “This is such an important step forward.”

The bill represents the end of a multi-year effort to end the practice of sending unexpected, out-of-network medical bills to patients who visit facilities in-network with their health insurance plans. 

In late 2018, 9Wants to Know’s “Lien on Me” investigation documented more than 170 liens that had been placed on the homes of patients who, in many instances, had tried to follow the rules of their insurance plans.    

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

Since then, the number of liens placed by one collections company has gone above 200.

Nicole Studer went to Swedish Medical Center for an appendectomy in 2016.

She deliberately chose the hospital because it was in-network with her insurance plan. Unbeknownst to her at the time, however, the surgeon who ultimately removed her appendix had no contract with her insurance.

That surgeon then billed Studer directly for thousands her insurance company refused to pay. 

When she balked at the charges, the surgeon – through a collections company – sued her before ultimately placing a $5802.08 lien on her Jefferson County home.   

Shortly after she contacted 9NEWS, the collections company started garnishing her wages to the tune of close to $1,000 a month. 

When contacted by 9Wants to Know during the “Lien on Me” investigation, Rep. Daneya Esgar (D-Pueblo) pledged to once again try to bring forward legislation designed to protect patients like Studer. 

RELATED | Legislation introduced to protect patients from surprise medical bills

Tuesday, she told us she had fulfilled that pledge. 

She credits the tenacity of patients across the state for bringing out the change in law. 

“Hearing those voices really impacted the outcome of this bill,” she said.  

The bill passed both the Colorado Senate and House will broad bi-partisan support. 

RELATEDBill to protect patients from surprise medical bills passes Colorado Senate

It was a big change from previous sessions when similar pieces of legislation continually failed to survive committee votes. 

“The attention you brought to this issue I truly believe helped push us over the line this time,” Rep. Esgar told 9Wants to Know investigative reporter Chris Vanderveen. 

The law does not go into effect until the start of next year. 

The Colorado Medical Society had fought the legislation once again this year. Its leadership believes the main provisions of HB 1174 will drive many emergency room doctors out of state. 

Rep. Esgar said she will be watching the impact on the Colorado medical community closely, although she insisted she doesn’t believe her bill will lead to a mass medical migration from the state. 

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