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Avoiding Surprise Medical Bills: Your Rights and Protections

Surprise Medical Bills: Understanding Your Rights and Protections

In today’s world, healthcare expenses are a growing concern for many Americans. With the cost of medical services and insurance premiums on the rise, receiving a surprise medical bill can be an unwelcome surprise.

In some cases, patients receive bills for medical services that they thought were covered by their insurance plan. This can happen when a healthcare provider charges more than the insurer’s agreed-upon rate, or when a patient receives care from an out-of-network provider.

In this article, we will explore the issue of surprise medical bills, the different types that exist and what you can do to protect yourself from these unexpected charges.

Types of Surprise Bills

Surprise medical bills come in different forms, and understanding each is key to protecting yourself from costly charges.

Emergency room bills are a common type of surprise medical bill that many patients encounter.

If you visit an emergency room, you may receive a bill that includes charges from out-of-network medical providers, such as ER doctors or radiologists. These providers may not accept your insurance’s negotiated rate, resulting in higher charges than what you were expecting.

Ambulance bills are another type of surprise bill. If you require transportation to a hospital, you may receive a bill for ground or air ambulance services that aren’t covered by your health insurance.

These bills can be substantial, with some ground transports costing hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on the distance of transport. Additionally, air ambulance services can cost tens of thousands of dollars, as they often require specialized equipment and staff.

Cancer treatments are yet another area where many patients are faced with unexpected bills. Patients with cancer often require ongoing treatment, which can accumulate costs quickly.

Many insurance plans now include coverage for cancer-related treatments, but there may be unexpected expenses involved. For example, some patients have reported receiving bills for over $500 for a specialized test that was not covered by their insurance plan.

Out-of-Network Healthcare Providers

One of the leading causes of surprise medical bills is the use of out-of-network healthcare providers. This can happen in several ways, such as when a patient receives care from a healthcare provider who isn’t within their insurer’s network.

To avoid being charged for out-of-network healthcare providers, it’s important to verify that all services received are within your insurance plan’s network. This can include checking with your insurance provider before receiving medical care or verifying that the hospital or clinic is in-network.

If you do receive care from an out-of-network healthcare provider, some states have laws that may protect you from surprise billing. These laws require healthcare providers to provide you with a notice of your rights and options before providing services.

Additionally, these laws may require healthcare providers to negotiate rates with insurers and limit the amount that patients can be charged.

Balance Billing

Balance billing is another reason why patients receive unexpected medical bills. Balance billing occurs when healthcare providers, such as doctors or hospitals, bill patients for the difference between their normal charge and the insurance provider’s agreed-upon rate.

If you receive a balance bill, there are several actions you can take to address the situation. First, try negotiating with the healthcare provider to lower the amount owed.

Many providers may be willing to reduce the amount in exchange for receiving some payment. Additionally, you can contact your insurance company to dispute the charges and request that they cover the balance of the bill.

Federal and State Protections

To address the issue of surprise medical bills, several states have passed laws aimed at protecting patients. These laws may require healthcare providers to provide patients with detailed information about the healthcare services that they will be receiving, including estimates of costs.

Additionally, states may require insurance providers to cover certain medically necessary services, even when they are out-of-network. The federal government has also passed laws aimed at protecting patients from surprise medical bills.

One such law requires hospitals to provide patients with an estimate of the cost of treatment services, including estimates of any out-of-pocket costs. Additionally, under federal law, insurers are required to provide coverage for emergency room visits, regardless of whether the healthcare provider is in-network.


Surprise medical bills can be a significant burden, causing financial stress and anxiety for patients. By understanding the different types of surprise medical bills and the rights and protections available, patients can take steps to protect themselves from these unexpected charges.

If you have received an unexpected medical bill, it’s important to take action quickly. By negotiating with the healthcare provider or contacting your insurance company, you may be able to reduce the amount owed or dispute the charges altogether.

How the New Law Will Work: Protecting Patients from Surprise Medical Bills

For patients, surprise medical bills can be a huge financial burden, leaving them with unexpected expenses and facing spiraling healthcare costs. In the United States, this has been an ongoing problem for years, and the issue has finally been addressed by new federal laws introduced in 2020.

These protections provide patients with the right to be protected from balance billing and from being responsible for out-of-network charges. Let’s take a closer look at how the new law will work to protect patients from surprise medical bills.

Protecting Patients from Out-of-Network Bills

Coming into effect in 2022, the new federal law will introduce protections that will help patients avoid the high costs of out-of-network bills by limiting the amount that patients must pay out of pocket. One significant change is the new restrictions on balance bills, which occur when a healthcare provider bills a patient for the difference between their out-of-network charge and what their insurance provider is willing to pay.

With the new law, patients will now only be required to pay their in-network cost-sharing amounts. This means that if an out-of-network provider bills more than what their insurance plan covers, the patient will not be held responsible for paying the remaining balance.

Providers Negotiations and Arbitration

In situations where a healthcare provider wants to receive extra payments, the new law allows them to take the insurance company to arbitration, where an independent third party will help determine the appropriate payment. Additionally, the new law will require healthcare providers and insurance companies to negotiate the payment amount for services, especially when the treatment may be needed as part of an emergency.

Other Protections

The new law also aims to provide patients with greater transparency around medical billing costs. Providers will be required to provide patients with an “Advanced Explanation of Benefits,” which will give them a better understanding of the costs associated with each service and how much their insurance plan will cover.

Insurers will also be required to maintain up-to-date network directories, ensuring that patients are aware of which providers are in-network.

Protecting Yourself from Surprise Medical Bills

While the new federal protections aim to provide greater protection for patients, people still need to take steps to protect themselves from surprise medical bills in the meantime.

State Protections Until 2022

In the meantime, it’s also important to understand that some states already have laws in place that protect patients from surprise medical bills. These laws can range from limiting balance billing for certain medical services to holding patients harmless when they’ve received medical care from out-of-network providers.

Ask Your Insurer and Provider

Another way to protect yourself from surprise medical bills is to ask your insurer and provider for an itemized bill of all charges. Patients can review these charges and raise any concerns or clarify questions they may have.

This can help to prevent any surprises when it comes to billing, as patients will have a better understanding of what charges to expect.

Try to Avoid Surprise Bills

While it’s not always possible to control when or where you receive medical treatment, it’s a good idea to try and avoid situations where surprise bills are more likely. For example, if you need to undergo a planned procedure, it’s a good idea to work with your care team to choose providers who are within your insurance network.

Additionally, before receiving any medical treatment, it’s important to verify that any services you receive will be within your insurance network.


For far too long, surprise medical bills have been a major burden for patients in the United States. The new federal protections will provide patients with greater protection from these bills, including limiting the amount a patient is responsible for paying.

However, until the new law comes into effect, it’s important to take steps to protect yourself from surprise bills. By understanding state protections, asking for itemized bills, and verifying network coverage, patients can help prevent any surprises when it comes to medical billing.

In conclusion, surprise medical bills continue to be a significant financial burden for patients, but new federal laws are introducing long overdue protections in 2022. Patients will be protected from out-of-network bills, with restrictions on balance billing, while providers will be allowed to use arbitration and negotiate payment amounts.

Patients will also have greater transparency around billing costs. However, until these protections come into force, it’s important to take steps to protect yourself from surprise bills by understanding state protections, asking for itemized bills, and verifying network coverage.

By doing so, patients can avoid unexpected expenses and better manage their healthcare costs.

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