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Your Rights and Protections Against Surprise Medical 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 surprise/balance 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 healthcare 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 deductive 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:

Emergency services
If you have an emergency medical condition and get emergency services from an out-of- network provider or facility, the most they can bill you is your plan’s in- network cost-sharing amount (such as copayments,coinsurance, and deductibles). You cannot be balance billed for these emergency services. This includes services you may get after you’re in stable condition, unless you give written consent and give up your protections not to be balanced billed for these post-stabilization services.

California law also prohibits balance billing for emergency services if you are a member of a health care service plan regulated under the Knox-Keene Act.  In addition, California Assembly Bill 72 (AB 72) prohibits an out-of-network physician from billing you for nonemergency services you receive at an in-network hospital.

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 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, or intensivist services. These providers cannot balance bill you and may not ask you to give up your protections to not be balance billed.

If you get other types of services at these in-network facilities, out-of-network providers cannot balance bill you, unless you give written consent and give up your protections.

You are never required to give up your protections from balance billing. You also are not 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 protections:

You’re only responsible for paying your share of the cost (like the copayments, coinsurance, and deductible 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 have been wrongly billed, contact:
The California Department of Managed Care (DMHC) 
HealthHelp.ca.gov
1-888-466-2219

The California Department of Insurance (CDI) 
insurance.ca.gov/01-consumers/101-help
1-800-927-4357. 

For more information about your federal rights, visit:
cms.gov/nosurprises

For more information about your state rights under California’s AB 72, you may visit:
DMHC
dmhc.ca.gov/portals/0/healthcareincalifornia/factsheets/fsab72.pdf

CDI
insurance.ca.gov/01-consumers/110-health/60-resources/nosuprisebills.cfm

Download Full Document


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 hospital fees.
  • 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.