According to an e-rulemaking filing submitted by California Attorney General Rob Bonta, the state’s chief law enforcement officer commended a new proposed rule to protect American consumers from unexpected medical bills and provided several recommendations to strengthen it. Tuesday’s letter and accompanying press release explain that while California and other states offer their residents balance billing protections, gaps remain.
The interim final rule (IFR) “Requirements Related to Surprise Billing; Part I,” was reportedly propounded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Labor, and Department of Treasury on July 13. According to Bonta’s press release, the regulation will extend surprise medical bill protections to about 135 million people covered through employer self-funded plans and millions more who reside in states without protections against the stress and financial hardship such bills cause.
Specifically, unexpected medical expenses can cause debt and can result in long-term, deleterious effects, including low credit scores, credit card debt, and savings losses. In addition it can leave individuals and families without basic necessities and may stall education or career plans.
Bonta also pointed out that studies have also shown that the COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated the problem, citing a study conducted from March to June 2021 finding that individuals who lost income reported medical bill problems at the highest rates, and in particular those who also tested positive or became sick with COVID-19 or lost coverage.
According to the attorney general, the IFR addresses and closes many of the gaps in state law, but leaves others. He cited the need to expand the definition of urgent care centers, in view of the fact that they now handle about 89 million visits annually. Too, telemedicine has reportedly increased by 6000% during the pandemic. As such, Bonta pressed the federal government to increase consumer protections by obligating entities like traditional and specialty urgent care clinics, retail clinics, and telemedicine to comply with the new law.