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House panel OKs balance billing ban, sponsor says unlikely to pass this year

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Health insurers and HMOs may have won the battle in a House healthcare committee on Thursday but they may end up losing the war this session.

The House Health and Human Services Committee approved a bill that would ban nonparticipating providers from balance billing patients in need of emergency care under CS/HB 681. Additionally, the measure would place into law a reimbursement schedule for nonparticipating providers.

But CS/HB 681 bill sponsor state Rep. Carlos Trujillo acknowledged that he didn’t think the measure would “make it across the finish line” this session and he promised to work with the healthcare community that adamantly opposes the measure.

Organized medicine came out in force against the measure. Florida Medical Association General Counsel and lobbyist Jeff Scott told the committee that the solution to balanced billing would come at the expense of doctors and patients. Scott said insurers should be required to advise people when they buy insurance products that there is a possibility that they can be balance billed.

Scott said the bill “solves the problem of balance billing on the back of a nonparticipating physician even though that physician had nothing to do with the creation or sale of that defective product.”

The Florida Association of Health Plans testified in support of the measure as did Steve Burgess, Florida’s insurance consumer advocate. Burgess works for Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who called the proposal in a press release a top priority of his this session.

Trujillo told members of the committee that he planned on working on the issue over the summer

A similar bill in the Senate, SB 516, was technically killed this week when it was not brought up in the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee. The bill had been temporarily deferred at the previous meeting at the request of sponsor state Sen. Aaron Bean.

Senate rules require any bill that is temporarily deferred to be considered at the committee’s next meeting or it’s considered “abandoned.” The rules can be waived, but it requires a two-thirds vote, which is difficult to obtain.

Bean was reluctant to concede that the measure was “dead” in the Senate bud did acknowledge that trying to find a compromise between healthcare providers and insurers and HMOs isn’t easy.

“It’s like the Middle East peace process,” Bean said “It’s so complicated.”

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