Effective January 1, 2022, the No Surprises Act, which Congress passed as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, is designed to protect patients from surprise bills for emergency services at out-of-network facilities or for out-of-network providers at in-network facilities, holding them liable only for in-network cost-sharing amounts. The No Surprises Act also enables uninsured patients to receive a good faith estimate of the cost of care.
When you get emergency care or get treated by an out-of-network provider at an in-network hospital or surgery center, you are protected from surprise billing or balance billing
What is “balance billing?”
When you see a doctor or other healthcare 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 healthcare facility that isn’t in your health plan’s network.
“Out-of-network” describes providers and facilities that haven’t signed a contract with your health plan. 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 is called “balance billing.” 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” is 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.
Protection from balance billing includes:
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.
Additionally, Texas law protects patients from surprise medical bills in emergencies and when a patient receives covered medical services from an out-of-network provider at an in-network facility. The law applies to state-regulated insurance plans, including the state employee or the teacher retirement systems. This law does not apply to non-emergency healthcare or medical services when a patient elects in advance and in writing to receive those services from an out-of-network provider and when the out-of-network provider provides the patient with a written disclosure.
Certain Services at an In-Network Hospital or Ambulatory Surgical Center (ASC)
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.
You’re never required to give up your protections 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.
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.
Good Faith Estimate
You have the right to receive a “Good Faith Estimate” explaining how much your medical care will cost. Under the law, healthcare providers need to give patients who don’t have insurance or who are not using insurance an estimate of the bill for medical items and services.You have the right to receive a Good Faith Estimate for the total expected cost of any non-emergency items or services. This includes related costs like medical tests, prescription drugs, equipment and hospital fees.
Make sure your healthcare provider gives you a Good Faith Estimate in writing at least one business day before your medical service or item. You can also ask your healthcare provider, and any other provider you choose, for a Good Faith Estimate before you schedule an item or service.
If you receive a bill that is at least $400 more than your Good Faith Estimate, you can dispute the bill.Make sure to save a copy or picture of your Good Faith Estimate.
Get More Information
For questions or more information about your right to a Good Faith Estimate, visit cms.gov/nosurprises or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).
If you believe you’ve been wrongly billed, you may contact:
U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) or visit cms.gov/nosurprises for more information about your rights under federal law.
The Texas Department of Insurance Consumer Help Line at 1-800-252-3439 or visit www.tdi.texas.gov/tips/texas-protects-consumers-from-surprise-medical-bills or www.tdi.texas.gov/medical-billing/surprise-balance-billing for more information about your rights under Texas law.