According to an article in the Dallas Morning News, even if you have medical insurance and go to an “in-network” hospital, you could still end up with a ton of medical debt due to a practice called “balance billing.” In a nutshell, balance billing equals more medical debt for consumers who use “in-network” hospitals who in turn employ “out-of-network” medical staff. The medical professional may not have a contract with your insurer so they charge any fee they choose, the insurer is not obligated to pay it; but you are.
The article said:
“When Thomas Harrington went to the emergency room for treatment of a smashed finger one Sunday morning in August 2007, he fully expected his insurance would cover his costs. The hospital, Denton Regional Medical Center, was included in his insurer’s network, after all. Unfortunately for Harrington, the emergency room doctor was not. As a result, the 48-year-old Denton man was billed for the balance not paid by his insurer.”
“The next thing I know, I checked my credit report and saw that the doctor submitted $350 to collections,” Harrington said. That debt lowered his credit score from 775 to 630, he said.”
That’s what balance billing does to ordinary consumers like you–more medical debt and more headaches. However, some legislators have got wind of this nasty little practice that is exasperating Americans medical debt problem and legislation was passed that gives consumers some power to fight it.. State representative Kelly Hancock, authored legislation that provides a mediation process for consumers to dispute medical debt that is due to balance billing practices. The law, which was passed in June, allows patients with medical debt exceeding $1,000 to have a mediator decide what they owe, provided the medical service was conducted by a physician in a hospital covered under the patient’s insurance.
This is a good start; but what we need is a law that out right bans the practice. Most consumers suffering under medical debt don’t have time to fight with powerful insurers in court. We need to understand and respect that reality.