Bill to rein in surprise medical billing advances

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Medicine and Money

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Legislation to offer patients some protection from surprise medical bills passed the state Senate Wednesday.

“There are many factors that contribute to surprise billing,” said Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester. “Some will place the blame on insurance companies. Some will place the blame on providers. It all depends on whom you ask. But while we are trying to figure out who to blame, patients are stuck in the middle of the problem – often with large medical bills.”

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The measure Alvarado sponsored, known as Senate Bill 150, seeks to stop the practice by requiring insurers to cover surprise billing, sometimes called balanced billing. It happens when a patient receives medical care – often unwittingly – outside of their insurer’s network. Subsequently, the doctor or hospital bills the patient for the amount insurance didn’t cover.

Alvarado characterized SB 150 as a consumer protection bill. He said surprise billing was a dubious exercise of cost shifting from insurers to patients.

A second provision of SB 150 would require the state insurance commissioner to establish a database of billed health care service charges. A final provision would provide a dispute resolution program for medical insurers and providers to work out their differences over these out-of-network charges.

Sen. Rick Girdler, R-Somerset, stood to speak against the bill. He cited a fiscal impact statement prepared for the bill that estimated SB 150 would increase individual premiums for health benefit plans by up to $9 per month.

“The people that are going to suffer … is the consumer,” he said.

Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, stood to explain his “yes” vote on SB 150. He noted the self-funded Kentucky Employees’ Health Plan already covers surprise billing for its nearly 265,000 members.

“If we are going to enjoy that benefit, the citizens of Kentucky should share the same,” he said.

Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, stood to explain his “no” vote on SB 150. He said what was desperately needed was broader reforms to empower health care consumers through such measures as transparent pricing of procedures and drugs.

“Today I filed Senate Bill 265 that I believe offers a better solution in the context mentioned,” he said.

Alvarado said SB 150 wasn’t a hastily drafted bill but the results of three years of investigation.

“I wish to remind the members of the Senate that a successful bill for surprise billing should only make one group happy – and that is the patients we are trying to protect,” he said. “If other stakeholders are a bit uncomfortable, then we have a good compromise on this issue.”

SB 150 passed by a 30-3 vote. It now goes to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

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Tom Kenny joined ABC 36 News in June of 2001 as a General Assignment Reporter. A native of Peoria, Illinois, he graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications from Western Illinois University. He currently anchors ABC 36 News at 5pm, 6pm and 11pm. Tom has more than three decades of experience in broadcast journalism. He is the only broadcast journalist in Lexington television history to be honored with a national Edward R. Murrow Award. Tom was recognized for reporting on a story that gave a rare glimpse inside the secretive world of the Federal Witness Protection Program. He has won an Emmy Award for anchoring and another for investigative reporting, exposing the deceit and potential danger of online diploma mills. Tom has ten other Emmy nominations to his credit for investigative and feature reporting. He has won Associated Press Awards for reporting and anchoring. He has won two Addy Awards for excellence in promotional writing. Tom was the first broadcast journalist in Lexington TV history to be awarded the Silver Circle Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. It is one of the highest honors given by NATAS. It recognizes television professionals who have performed distinguished service within the television industry for 25-years or more. Tom was honored for more than his longevity, he was recognized for making an enduring contribution to the vitality of the television industry and for setting high standards of achievement. He was also recognized for giving back to the community as a mentor, educator and volunteer. Tom also has network broadcast experience in radio and television having worked as a sports reporter for ESPN, Sportschannel, NBC Sports and the Breeders’ Cup. He was also the studio host and halftime producer for CBS Radio Sports’ College Football Game of the Week and covered the NFL for One-On-One Radio Sports. Prior to joining WTVQ-TV, Tom was Vice-President of the Houston Astros Minor League baseball team in Lexington. He was part of the original management team that brought professional baseball back to the Bluegrass after a nearly 50-year absence. Tom has lived in Lexington since 1984. In that time, he has been heavily involved with dozens of charity and civic groups, with a special emphasis on helping Veterans. He can be reached at tkenny@wtvq.com. You can also follow Tom on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomKennyABC and Twitter @TomKennyNews. Just click on the links at the top of the page.