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State Could Do More to Protect Texans from Surprise Medical Bills

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Wednesday, May 19, 2021   

AUSTIN, Texas - Surprise medical expenses cost Americans millions of dollars every year, and two bills under consideration by the Texas Legislature could help alleviate the problem.

Blake Hutson, associate state director of advocacy and outreach for AARP Texas, said Senate Bill 999 would protect people who sometimes are required by medical providers to use an ambulance - only to later learn they owe thousands of dollars for what could have been a short ride across town.

"In Texas today, you can be forced to go from a hospital to another facility - like a rehab facility by ambulance - and then, you later learn that that ambulance was out of network and you get a big, surprise bill," he said.

Last December, Congress passed a federal law banning surprise medical bills, but ambulances - which can have the highest out-of-network billing rate of any medical specialty - were excluded. One study found 71% of ambulance rides have the potential to generate a surprise bill, with an average cost to the patient of $450.

AARP Texas also is advocating for passage of Senate Bill 2038, which tentatively has been approved by the Texas Senate, to prevent price-gouging for certain health-related tests. Hutson said such practices became obvious during the pandemic, when people reported paying from $1,000 to $10,000 for a COVID test.

"Really, what these kinds of issues are symptomatic of is how health-care costs are sort of just on a complete runaway train in Texas," he said. "Texas is sort of ground zero for some of the most egregious price-gouging that we see in health care."

Hutson said the state already has laws to prevent hotels or gas stations from price-gouging during a hurricane or other natural disaster, but a medical crisis isn't included. He said surprise medical bills not only happen to folks who are uninsured, but also to many who think they're fully covered for emergencies, only to receive exorbitant bills while they're recovering.

Disclosure: AARP Texas contributes to our fund for reporting on Energy Policy, Health Issues, Livable Wages/Working Families, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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