Cracking the Code: Senator’s bill looks to stop surprise medical bills

Updated: Jul. 18, 2019 at 9:00 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A bill in the U.S. Senate could help stop the surprise medical bills that cost Americans thousands each year.

Senator Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, helped write the Stop Surprise Bills Act of 2019. A bill that has 27 co-sponsors, more than a quarter of the U.S. Senate. He is hopeful the full senate will take up this bill in the summer.

“If the patient goes to an in-network facility, or if it’s an emergency and she goes to any facility, she gets the in-network rate,” Cassidy said. “She is no longer a point of leverage where the provider and the insurer duke it out.”

Steve Fair visited a New Orleans hospital while in town from Oklahoma. He woke up from his New Orleans hotel room scared, when his uvula had swollen five times its normal size. He visited Tulane’s emergency room and spent about ten minutes with a doctor. He said he was diagnosed with an infection and strep throat, was given a shot and went on his way.

Fair paid his copay and the insurance company paid the rest. But a month after his emergency visit, he got a surprise bill for $1,400.

The bill did not come from Tulane, instead, it came from The Schumacher Group, which billed just for the emergency room physician’s ten minutes and they charged Fair $1,360.

“If this guy is making this kind of money, he’s making $2.5 Million a year as an ER physician, working 50 hours a week,” Fair said. “I mean, there’s no possible way he can justify this kind of charge.”

Fair sent a letter to Senator Cassidy, who is also a medical doctor, calling it a “classic example of price gouging.”

“It seems like this is astronomical, that this is out of control," Fair said. "And my question to Tulane was that: Why have you... what do you do? Do you know how much your third-party physicians charge? Those guys who are actually there, doing the work in your ER - are they employed by you? Obviously not, because I’m getting a bill from a third party.”

For Fair, the bill in the U.S. Senate is too late, but if he ever gets sick again in New Orleans, he might not have to think twice about where he gets treatment.

“How can you justify a bill of $1,300 for a ten minute consultation?” Fair asked. “I mean, I realize that ER’s are expensive and expensive to operate. I mean I’m a business person, so I understand that principle.”

Cassidy expects the bill to pass when it is brought up to the Senate.

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