Assemblyman David Chiu and state Sen. Scott Wiener, both of San Francisco, announced a bill Monday that would prevent public hospitals from charging emergency room patients whose insurance won't cover their medical bills. This practice is called “balance billing,” and according to Chiu, it’s costing Californians thousands of dollars.
Even if a patient has private insurance, an ambulance might transport them to an out-of-network hospital that doesn’t accept it — like Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. Then, a month after getting treatment, they're hit with a surprise from the hospital.
“I got this atrocious bill for $13,000,” said Nicki Pogue, who was treated at SFGH after experiencing a severe reaction to bronchitis medication. To her shock, UnitedHealthcare would only cover $3,000 of the bill.
Pogue said she left the hospital within five hours, but spent the next five months trying to fight the charges.
“I went into the underworld of our health care system,” she said. Her weeknights and weekends were consumed by writing appeal letters, researching state legislation and talking to lawyers.
Ultimately, UnitedHealthcare covered her bill, but she’s not done campaigning yet.
“I will drive to Sacramento, I don’t care how many times, to make sure this bill gets passed,” she said.