No Surprises Act
The federal No Surprises Act became effective Jan. 1, 2022. The law aims to help patients understand health care costs in advance of care and to minimize unforeseen, or surprise, medical bills.
No Surprises Act Overview:
- Patients are protected from receiving surprise medical bills resulting from out-of-network care for emergency services and for certain scheduled services without prior patient consent.
- Patients who do not have insurance or who are not using insurance to pay for care have a right to receive a good faith estimate of their potential bill for medical services when scheduled at least three days in advance.
- Individuals with Medicare, Medicare Advantage, Medicaid, Indian Health Services, VA health care, or TRICARE insurance plans are not covered under the No Surprises Act because these federal insurance programs have existing protections in place to minimize large, unforeseen bills.
When you get emergency care or are treated by an out-of-network provider at an in-network hospital or ambulatory surgical center, you are protected from balance billing. In these cases, you shouldn’t be charged more than your plan’s copayments, coinsurance and/or deductible.
What is “balance billing” (sometimes called “surprise billing”)?
When you see a doctor or other health care provider, you may owe certain out-of-pocket costs, like a copayment, coinsurance, or deductible. You may have additional costs or have to pay the entire bill if you see a provider or visit a health care facility that isn’t in your health plan’s network.
“Out-of-network” means providers and facilities that haven’t signed a contract with your health plan to provide services. Out-of-network providers may be allowed to bill you for the difference between what your plan pays and the full amount charged for a service. This is called “balance billing.” This amount is likely more than in-network costs for the same service and might not count toward your plan’s deductible or annual out-of-pocket limit.
“Surprise billing” is an unexpected balance bill. This can happen when you can’t control who is involved in your care—like when you have an emergency or when you schedule a visit at an in-network facility but are unexpectedly treated by an out-of-network provider. Surprise medical bills could cost thousands of dollars depending on the procedure or service.
You’re protected from balance billing for:
If you have an emergency medical condition and get emergency services from an out-of-network provider or hospital, the most they can bill you is your plan’s in-network cost-sharing amount (such as copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles). You can’t be balanced billed for these emergency services. This includes services you may get after you’re in a stable condition unless you give written consent and give up your protections not to be balanced billed for these post-stabilization services. If your insurance ID card says “fully insured coverage,” you can’t give written consent and give up your protections not to be balance billed for post-stabilization services.
Certain services at an in-network hospital or ambulatory surgical center
When you get services from an in-network hospital or ambulatory surgical center, certain providers there may be out-of-network. In these cases, the most those providers can bill you is your plan’s in-network cost-sharing amount. This applies to emergency medicine, anesthesia, pathology, radiology, laboratory, neonatology, assistant surgeon, hospitalist, and intensivist services. These providers can’t balance bill you and may not ask you to give up your protections not to be balance billed.
If you get other types of services at these in-network facilities, out-of-network providers can’t balance bill you, unless you give written consent and give up your protections. If your insurance ID card says “fully insured coverage,” you can’t give up your protections for these other services if they are a surprise bill. Surprise bills are when you’re at an in-network hospital or ambulatory surgical facility and a participating doctor was not available, a non-participating doctor provided services without your knowledge, or unforeseen medical services were provided.
Services referred by your in-network doctor
If your insurance ID card says “fully insured coverage,” surprise bills include when your in-network doctor refers you to an out-of-network provider without your consent (including lab and pathology services). These providers can’t balance bill you and may not ask you to give up your protections not to be balance billed. You may need to sign a form (available on the Department of Financial Services’ website) for the full balance billing protection to apply.
You’re never required to give up your protection from balance billing. You also aren’t required to get out-of-network care. You can choose a provider or facility in your plan’s network.
When balance billing isn’t allowed, you also have these protections:
- You’re only responsible for paying your share of the cost (like the copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles that you would pay if the provider or facility was in-network). Your health plan will pay any additional costs to out-of-network providers and facilities directly.
- Generally, your health plan must:
- Cover emergency services without requiring you to get approval for services in advance (also known as “prior authorization”).
- Cover emergency services by out-of-network providers.
- Base what you owe the provider or facility (cost-sharing) on what it would pay an in-network provider or facility and show that amount in your explanation of benefits.
- Count any amount you pay for emergency services or out-of-network services toward your in-network deductible and out-of-pocket limit.
If you think you’ve been wrongly billed and your coverage is subject to New York law (“fully insured coverage”), contact the New York State Department of Financial Services at (800) 342-3736 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit http://www.dfs.ny.gov for information about your rights under state law.
Contact CMS at 1-800-985-3059 for self-funded coverage or coverage bought outside New York. Visit http://www.cms.gov/nosurprises/consumers for information about your rights under federal law.
Right to Receive a Good Faith Estimate
You have the right to receive a “Good Faith Estimate” explaining how much your medical care will cost.
Under the law, health care providers need to give patients who don’t have insurance or who are not using insurance an estimate of the bill for medical items and services.
- You have the right to receive a Good Faith Estimate for the total expected cost of any non-emergency items or services. This includes related costs like medical tests, prescription drugs, equipment, and medical visit charges.
- Make sure your health care provider gives you a Good Faith Estimate in writing at least 1 business day before your medical service or item. You can also ask your health care provider, and any other provider you choose, for a Good Faith Estimate before you schedule an item or service.
- If you receive a bill that is at least $400 more than your Good Faith Estimate, you can dispute the bill.
- Make sure to save a copy or picture of your Good Faith Estimate.
For questions or more information about your right to a Good Faith Estimate, visit www.cms.gov/nosurprises or call 1-800-985-3059.