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: ‘You get charged before you are seen’: Federal ban on surprise medical bills goes into effect Saturday

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Have you nearly fainted upon receipt of a surprise medical bill?

Help is on the way. Former President Donald Trump signed a federal rule requiring hospitals to publicly list the cost of many of their services in accessible, consumer-friendly language. That rule goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2021. This applies to X-rays, outpatient visits, imaging and laboratory tests, or bundled services such as a colonoscopy. 

If the closest hospital emergency room is outside of your insurance provider’s network, you won’t be surprised with sticker shock. Similarly, if an out-of-network medical practitioner participates in a surgery or procedure at an in-network hospital that too will be exempt from a surprise bill. Instead, patients will be only have to pay their in-network bill.

Earlier in the pandemic, men and women getting hit with surprise bills after getting treated for COVID-19 also made headlines. One survivor who spent six weeks in a Seattle ICU ran up a $1.1 million medical tab, although he was quite fortunate in that his insurance paid most of the bill. (If you’re curious, here’s how his $1,122,501.04 bill breaks down.) 

Last November, a Georgia woman spent seven hours waiting for emergency room staff to check out her head injury, and left before receiving any treatment. But the real headache began when the hospital billed her almost $700 for the visit a few weeks later.  “You get charged before you are seen,” Taylor Davis told a local Fox affiliate. “I didn’t get my vitals taken, nobody called my name. I wasn’t seen at all.”

One in five Americans who undergo elective surgery get hit with unexpected out-of-network medical bills, according to a 2020 study of almost 350,000 people. And those suffering sticker shock ended up owing $2,011 more than they were expecting, on average. And nearly one in five families who delivered babies in 2019 may have gotten at least one surprise bill for the delivery and/or newborn hospitalization, with an average bill of $744, another study estimates.

(Associated Press contributed to this story.)

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