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NJ lawmakers offer plan to block unexpected health care costs

 Democratic lawmakers discuss their bill to increase transparency about out-of-network health care costs. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

Democratic lawmakers discuss their bill to increase transparency about out-of-network health care costs. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

Democratic lawmakers in New Jersey are introducing legislation intended to eliminate surprise out-of-network health care charges.

The measure requires written notice at least 30 days before a scheduled medical procedure telling patients which costs won’t be covered by insurance, said Sen. Joe Vitale, chairman of the Senate Health Committee.

“You can’t expect a patient who’s lying in a hospital bed awaiting surgery to look up and ask if their anesthesiologist is in their network,” said Vitale, D-Middlesex.

Linda Schwimmer,  vice president of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, said many New Jersey residents who intend to stay in their network get socked with unexpected charges.

“Rather than just coming home with their beautiful new baby or to be able to focus and heal, they are ending up getting a stack of bills from people that they’ve never spoke to, seen, or heard of,” she said. “It’s not acceptable that we let this go on without doing anything about it.”

Studies indicate the proposed requirement could save consumers about 14 percent in health care costs, according to Assemblyman Gary Schaer.

“I don’t know if we’ll attain 14 percent, but I do know that we will attain some time in terms of the most critical issue currently facing consumers, the spiraling cost of health care, without any check in sight,” said Schaer, D-Passaic. “This bill finally provides such a check.”

Schaer said he expects providers and insurance companies will vigorously oppose the legislation.

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