Tips from CALPIRG Education Fund and Health Access California

How to protect yourself from surprise medical bills

One in 5 emergency room visits results in a surprise medical bill. CALPIRG Education Fund and Health Access have a tip sheet for what to do if you get one of these confusing and unfair bills.

CALPIRG Education Fund and Health Access

Imagine you go to a hospital for a routine procedure. You’ve made sure your hospital and doctor are covered by your insurance. The procedure goes well and you head home to recover. Two weeks later, you get the bill, but instead of the copay you expected, you get a bill for nearly $4,000. Turns out, the anesthesiologist who assisted with your procedure was “out of network” and your insurance won’t cover that bill as expected. You’ve received a surprise medical bill and now owe the difference between what your insurance will pay the out-of-network anesthesiologist and what you were billed.  

What is a “surprise medical bill?

You receive a surprise medical bill when, through no fault of your own, you are treated by providers outside of your insurance network. These “out-of-network” providers can charge exorbitant rates only revealed when the surprise bill arrives. The average emergency room surprise bill is around $600, but these bills can range into the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. When out-of-network providers charge these high rates, it drives up costs for everyone. Consumers are burdened with higher bills that they had no way of avoiding. And  when insurers have to pay their share of this higher charge, they’re likely to pass on that cost to everyone by raising premiums. 

Know your rights

In California, some patients are protected from certain surprise medical bills. It is important to know your rights to protect yourself from these illegal out-of-network charges. If you have insurance through Medicare, Medi-Cal or are on Veterans Affairs Health Care, you are fully protected from surprise bills. This tip sheet is for people covered under any other type of insurance.

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