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February 2022   Volume 20, Number 2        

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No Surprises Act Fails to Remove All Surprises

A new document designed to clarify the No Surprises Act regulations addresses some medical billing issues but leaves other important guidance to be determined later.

The No Surprises Act (NSA) is a part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (CAA). It provides federal protections to patients who get bills for receiving care out of network — in circumstances when they did not know the service was out of network. One of the key points of the NSA provisions is removing the patient from disputes between payers and providers.

A study by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation Office of Health Policy found that surprise bills occur frequently and can have a negative effect on a person’s budget. “On average, 18 percent of emergency room visits by people with large employer coverage result in one or more out-of-network bills and nearly 20 percent of patients undergoing in-network elective surgeries or giving birth in a hospital received surprise bills,” according to the study.

Surprise bills averaged more than $1,200 for anesthesia; $2,600 for surgical assistants; and $750 for childbirth.

President Donald Trump signed the NSA as part of the Consolidated Appropriation Act of 2021 on Dec. 27, 2020. Most sections of the legislation went into effect on Jan. 1, 2022, and the Departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury and Labor have responsibility for issuing regulations and guidance to implement several of the provisions. Prior to the law going into effect, the Office of the Assistant Secretary published an issue brief about the NSA to explain:

  • Why the rule is needed
  • State-level approaches
  • Key provisions of the rule
  • Implementation
  • How it will impact consumers
  • The process for resolving disputed.

While the NSA gives employers some direction on how to navigate the new law, there remains some controversy about the Act’s interpretation. For instance, the brief does not address:

  • Proposed arbitration rules
  • Concerns of 152 lawmakers who signed a letter arguing that the rules “do not reflect the way the law was written, do not reflect a policy that could have passed Congress, and do not create a balanced process to settle payment disputes."
  • How to protect consumers against "exorbitant charges and balance billing when using ground ambulance services."

The brief can be found at https://tinyurl.com/2p8cv9ke

What You Need to Know

The No Surprises Act requires providers and health plans to assist patients in finding health care cost information.

The NSA protects patients from receiving surprise medical bills when there are gaps in coverage for emergency services and certain services provided by out-of-network clinicians at in-network facilities, including by air ambulances.

In general, the NSA provides that an employee who has either private or employer-sponsored health care coverage, and who receives a bill for medical services received during an emergency from an out-of-network provider, will only be liable for paying deductibles and in-network cost-sharing amounts.

Providers and insurers will need to work together to negotiate reimbursement to the provider. If a dispute arises, the NSA states that this will be handled using an independent dispute resolution process. The legislation does not set a benchmark for how much reimbursement should be for services.

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In this issue:

This Just In

No Surprises Act Fails to Remove All Surprises

Early Retirees Need Health Coverage Options

New Saving Incentive for Grandparent-Owned 529 Plans

DCAP — Use it or Lose It



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