Georgia Watch supports legislation to increase transparency in medical billing practices and reduce abusive lawsuits for unpaid medical bills.
Despite significant progress on surprise out-of-network bills this session, many Georgians still may face burdensome hospital bills. Billing practices, such as suing patients for unpaid medical bills, leave patients vulnerable to medical debt and even wage garnishment. Amid the ongoing Covid-19 public health crisis, now more than ever we need legislation to protect Georgians from potentially abusive medical billing practices.
Current Legislation: Introduced by Senator Kay Kirkpatrick (R – 32) and Representative Mark Newton (R – 123), Senate Bill 311 would clarify current transparency requirements for non-profit hospitals to annually disclose their “debt collection practices.” Specifically, the bill would require hospitals to disclose the number of times annually that their collection practices include a legal or judicial process. Hospitals would be required to publicly disclose how often they sue patients for unpaid debt and/or garnish the wages of patients to satisfy unpaid debts. On June 23, the bill passed out of the House Special Committee On Access to Quality Health Care. The bill did not advance and remains stuck in the House Rules Committee. We are hopeful that it will be back next year.
Why is more transparency in medical billing needed?
Hospitals, including non-profit hospitals, sometimes file lawsuits and garnish wages for unpaid medical debt. While “good actor” hospitals often negotiate payments with patients and never garnish wages, recent stories from North Carolina, Nebraska, Ohio, and most recently Texas have exposed many instances of “bad actor” hospitals excessively suing patients over medical debt.
In these unfortunate situations, patients often lack access to an itemized bill of the services provided or information about how to dispute a bill. Because of the lack of transparency, patients have little ability to negotiate the bill beforehand.
How will SB 311 address this problem?
The legislation will provide public and transparent information regarding medical billing lawsuit practices of non-profit hospitals and encourage improved practices regarding medical billing. In particular, this legislation will clarify current transparency requirements in the Georgia Code for non-profit hospitals to annually disclose their “debt collection practices” by also requiring hospitals to disclose the number of times annually that collection practices include a legal or judicial process, such as lawsuit against a patient or garnishment of a patient’s wages. Increased transparency will enable us to determine if this practice is rare or nonexistent in Georgia. If evidence reveals that the practice is limited to a few hospitals, such information then will enable us to determine viable reforms to minimize this adverse billing practice.
This legislation seeking to improve clarity in medical billing practices complements other measures underway to minimize and eliminate surprise bills. We urgently need legislation that puts Georgia’s patients and families first and reduces the likelihood of burdensome and abusive medical billing practices.