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No More Surprises? New Rule on Surprise Medical Bills

July 09 - Posted at 2:32 PM Tagged: , , , , , ,

The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury, and the Office of Personnel Management have issued “Requirements Related to Surprise Billing; Part I,” an interim final rule to implement the No Surprises Act passed late last year as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. The No Surprises Act, which generally becomes effective January 1, 2022, minimizes the amounts that participants in a group health plan must pay for medical care received from physicians or other healthcare providers who are, unknown to the participant, outside of the plan’s network; this is referred to as “surprise billing.” In addition, the No Surprises Act limits situations in which out-of-network providers can bill directly for amounts not paid for by the group health plan; this is referred to as “balance billing.”

The rule implements portions of the No Surprises Act by placing restrictions on group health plans, as well as health insurance issuers, physicians, and other healthcare providers. The rule requires plans to treat certain services from out-of-network providers and facilities as in-network in applying cost-sharing, such as deductibles and co-insurance. Thus, the participant will have the same out-of-pockets costs for such services regardless of whether the facility or provider has a contract with the plan. Similarly, the rule forbids out-of-network providers from billing participants for amounts in excess of the participant’s in-network cost-sharing responsibility, subject to the participant’s ability to waive this protection in some situations.

Specifically, among other provisions, the rule implements certain consumer protection provisions of the No Surprises Act as follows:

  • Bans high out-of-network cost-sharing for emergency services. A group health plan must treat emergency services provided by out-of-network providers or facilities as in-network for applying cost-sharing requirements. Out-of-network providers and facilities are prohibited from billing a participant for amounts more than the participant’s in-network cost-sharing responsibility, and this prohibition generally cannot be waived by a participant. However, such providers and facilities may balance bill participants for post-stabilization services if they provide notice to the participant and obtain his or her consent to be balance billed before such services are provided.
  • Bans out-of-network charges for ancillary care at an in-network hospital or ambulatory surgery center. If a hospital or ambulatory surgery center is in-network, a group health plan must treat anesthesia, pathology, radiology, laboratory, neonatology, assistant surgeon, hospitalist, or intensivist services as in-network when applying cost-sharing requirements. Such providers are prohibited from billing a participant for amounts more than the participant’s in-network cost-sharing responsibility, and this prohibition cannot be waived by a participant.
  • Bans other out-of-network charges without advance notice. If a hospital or ambulatory surgery center is in-network and services other than those described above are provided, a group health plan must still treat the services as in-network when applying cost-sharing requirements. However, the out-of-network providers may balance bill the participant for these services if they provide notice to the participant and obtain his or her consent to be balance billed before the services are provided.

The issuance of the rule is accompanied by fact sheets for health plans and issuers, as well as consumers. The Department of Labor has also issued instructions and a model notice that plans and issuers could use to meet requirements to make certain information publicly available, post on a public website, and include in each explanation of benefits.

The rule will take effect for healthcare providers and facilities on January 1, 2022. For group health plans, health insurance issuers, and Federal Employees Health Benefits Program carriers, the provisions will take effect for plan, policy, or contract years beginning on or after January 1, 2022. Comments on the rule are due within 60 days after the rule is published in the Federal Register. It is likely that this rule will generate significant comments. The rule may also change in response to those comments.

Last week the Department of Health and Human Services, DOL and the IRS extended deadlines for multiple items related to health plan administration.  We don’t expect a huge influx of issues from the changes.  However, you should be aware so you don’t inadvertently misinform your employees.    

There were changes made regarding COBRA premium payments and election timeframes but since we have addressed those in a previous post, we won’t address it here.  COBRA administration is outsourced and those impacted are no longer employees so you can direct their questions to your COBRA administrator or to our office.  We’ll also skip the changes made to claims and appeals as that won’t apply to everyone.  That leaves the changes to your benefit program. 

As you are aware, most of the carriers have reduced or even eliminated the minimum number of hours a previously full-time employee must work to be covered by your plan.  Meaning, we can offer coverage to furloughed employees or those that have otherwise reduced hours to below the full-time requirements. 

In addition, the agencies, have decided to disregard the Outbreak Period (the time period between March 1st and at least 60 days after the announced end of the COVID 19 National Emergency) when establishing a deadline to request enrollment in coverage for certain qualifying events.  Meaning, the agencies, added a “pause” to the time frame required for employees to notify you about special enrollment periods, such as marriage or birth of a child.  We are not able to determine the exact end date of the Outbreak Period yet as that is based on an end to the National Emergency (and that had yet to be determined). 

For our examples, we’ll assume the COVID 19 National Emergency ends for the country on June 30th.  This would make the Outbreak Period March 1st to August 29th (60 days following June 30). 

Example 1 – Sally has a baby on March 3rd.  Normally, she would have 30 days to notify us that she would like to add the baby.  However, you are being instructed to disregard the Outbreak Period, therefore she has until September 28th (30 days from the end of the Outbreak Period) to let us know her desire to add her child.

Example 2 – Tom gets married June 1st.  He will have until September 28th to let us know if he intends to enroll his spouse. 

Under these examples, the dependents would be enrolled back to their original eligibility date and the employee would owe those back premiums.  I don’t expect this to become a big issue, however, depending on the employees circumstances it could.  The drawback to employers, other than the inconvenience, is this could have an impact on the group claims.  Normally Tom and Sally would only have 30 days to enroll their dependents.  With the extensions, employees have information about any issues or medical expenditures that have already happened along the way.  Carriers will be responsible to back up, enroll the dependent, and pay any claims incurred. 

Please let us know of any questions you have. 

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