Biden admin releases first interim final rule to ban surprise medical bills, sets implementation in Jan. 2022

The Biden administration has released an interim final rule that bans surprise billing and certain out-of-network charges, implementing a law passed by Congress late last year.

The 411-page interim final rule released Thursday by the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2022, for providers and for insurance plans that begin on or after Jan. 1, 2022. The regulation is the first part to address surprise billing, and affects people enrolled in employer-sponsored or individual market plans.

“Health insurance should offer patients peace of mind that they won’t be saddled with unexpected costs,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra in a statement Thursday.

The interim final rule will ban any surprise billing for emergency services regardless of where they are provided, including if they are air medical services. Such services must be treated via an in-network basis.

Other provisions of the rule include banning out-of-network charges without advance notice, bans on out-of-network charges for ancillary care and for any out-of-network charge for cost-sharing for emergency and non-emergency services.

“Patient cost-sharing, such as co-insurance or a deductible, cannot be higher than if such services were provided by an in-network doctor, and any coinsurance or deductible must be based on in-network provider rates,” according to a release from HHS.

Congress passed a law to end balance billing in December 2020 after a hard-fought lobbying war between providers and payers.

The law prohibits certain out-of-network providers from balance billing patients unless the patient is notified of their network status. The law requires an independent dispute resolution between payers and providers over any out-of-network charges. Both parties will submit amounts and the arbiter will choose one.

But how this arbitration was handled has been a major point of contention.

A collection of more than 20 patient advocacy groups including the American Heart Association wrote to administration leaders last month listing their priorities for the regulation. The groups wanted to ensure that the arbitration process didn’t lead to higher patient costs.

“Regulations should be drafted to at least meet, if not exceed, the savings projected by the Congressional Budget Office, which estimated premiums could be reduced by one percent,” the letter said.

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