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Balance billing measure clears 2nd Senate panel

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A Senate panel on Tuesday OK’d a measure that would ban the practice of “balance billing,” when insurance companies often unexpectedly slam a customer with a high bill for using an out-of-network health care provider.

The measure (SB 1442), carried by GOP state Sen. Rene Garcia of Hialeah, now moves from the Banking and Insurance Committee to Appropriations. The vote was unanimous: 11-0.

Garcia’s aim is to get patients out from between the provider and the payer, meaning health insurance companies. A strike-all amendment also approved Tuesday expands its effect to hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, specialty hospitals, and urgent care centers.

The proposal is backed by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who wants to “hold consumers harmless in emergency situations” by allowing them to “pay no more than what you would pay if the provider had been in your insurance network,” he has said. 

After some opposition, several medical and insurance interests now support the bill, including HCA Healthcare, the country’s largest operator of for-profit health care facilities, and the Florida Association of Health Plans.

That caught the attention of Senate President-designate Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, who bluntly asked Garcia, “What’s in it for them?”

“I don’t care so much what’s in it for them,” Garcia said. “I just want to take the consumer out of dispute resolutions when it comes to payments.”

A House companion (HB 221) is scheduled to be considered Wednesday by the Health & Human Services Committee, its last committee of reference.


Jim Rosica (jim@floridapolitics.com) covers the Florida Legislature, state agencies and courts from Tallahassee. 

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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