OSPIRG Foundation launches consumer education campaign on how to fight back against surprising medical billing

Media Contacts
Maribeth Guarino

Former High Value Health Care, Advocate, PIRG

OSPIRG Foundation

Every year, millions of Americans receive surprise medical bills after unknowingly receiving treatment from a provider outside of their insurance network. Studies have shown that nearly one in five emergency room visits and hospital stays results in a surprise out-of-network bill. Although the No Surprises Act, a federal law to protect consumers from surprise medical billing, was passed in December, it does not go into effect until January 2022. In the meantime, many consumers continue to be at risk for these charges that can cost between hundreds to thousands of dollars. 

OSPIRG Foundation launched its consumer education campaign today to educate consumers on their rights to push back if they receive a  surprise medical bill in the mail. To clearly outline consumer protection rights, OSPIRG Foundation has put together a tip sheet that offers information on legal protections and tips for fighting surprise bills before the federal law goes into effect.

“Oregon consumers often struggle to understand the pile of medical bills they receive after a health crisis,” said Maribeth Guarino, OSPIRG Foundation’s Health Care Advocate, “In particular, the out-of-network bills will often come as a surprise, and sometimes the consumers aren’t even legally obligated to pay them. It’s important that consumers have the right information to identify and fight these unfair bills.” 

The OSPIRG Foundation tip sheet explains consumer protections established by a 2017 law. This law protects many Oregon residents from surprise bills for emergency treatment by out-of-network providers and for treatment by out-of-network providers at in-network facilities. OSPIRG Foundation’s tip sheet helps Oregon residents understand how to make the most of these state-level protections.

The tip sheet also notes that Oregon law can only go so far. States are prohibited from regulating self-funded plans that fall under the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Nationally, 67 percent of workers who have insurance through their employer are in these self-funded federally regulated plans. In Oregon alone, approximately one million people are insured on these plans and are therefore not protected by the state’s laws. Additionally, the state is preempted from regulating billing practices of air ambulances, which are under the federal authority of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“Current Oregon law can only protect some insured Oregonians from expensive surprise medical bills, so OSPIRG Foundation worked to pass a federal solution – the No Surprises Act,” said Guarino. “Thanks to this work, the federal law will expand these important consumer protections to all insured Oregonians.” 

When it goes into effect in January 2022, the No Surprises Act will also broaden the scope of consumer protections by ending surprise out-of-network billing by air ambulances. Unfortunately, federal and Oregon law will still leave patients unprotected from one of the most common surprise bills: ground ambulances. 

The tip sheet is available here: https://ospirgfoundation.org/blogs/blog/orf/tips-how-protect-yourself-surprise-medical-bills