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New 4 San Antonio: Texas House votes unanimously, 146-0, to ban surprise medical bills

May 21, 2019

The vote was unanimous. Texas House lawmakers voted 146 - 0 to ban surprise medical bills in Texas.

Senate Bill 1264 would prohibit medical providers from sending surprise bills to consumers - "removing patients from the process entirely," according to a statement.

"With SB 1264, the patient will never be sent a balance bill. Any balance bill will go directly to mediation or arbitration, and it will become an issue between the medical provider and the insurance plan," said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer.

"Surprise medical bills can no longer be sent to Texans whose insurance plans are regulated by the state," tweeted reporter Jaie Avila, whose 'Show Me Your Bill' stories have shed a light on the problem of bills sent to patients who believed insurance would cover their medical expenses.

Senate Bill 1264 now heads back to the Texas Senate for a procedural vote before it heads to the governor's desk. Once signed, the law would take effect on January 1.

The ban would cover only people who have insurance plans regulated by the state. Many Texans have insurance regulated by the federal government, and to protect them congress will have to follow Texas' lead.

Federal lawmakers in the house and senate are working on their own legislation to stop surprise medical billing. Their action is needed to protect the 40% of Texans with insurance plans that are regulated by the Department of Labor. That includes many of us who get insurance through work.

Tuesday Congressman Lloyd Doggett held a committee hearing in Washington and played one of our Trouble Shooter stories.

“The problem in San Antonio, one of the communities that I represent, has been so extensive that Jaie Avila at WOAI has initiated an entire television series called ‘Show Me Your Bill.’" Doggett said.

Doggett has authored the "End Surprise Billing Act".

One of the patients testifying at the hearing was Congresswoman Katie Porter from California. She had life-saving surgery at an in-network hospital, but the surgeon was out of network. Porter said she received a $3,000 surprise bill her insurance company refused to pay.

"I'm here today because I refuse to accept this as the status quo. I refuse to stand idly by while families go bankrupt because of surprise medical bills," Porter said.

There's a lot of momentum in Texas and the federal level for these surprise billing protections. Congress could be voting on legislation by the end of the summer.

Patient Lavera Vincent recently showed us a $22,000 bill she received after going to a San Antonio hospital with chest pain. Before she was ever seen by a medical professional, she called ahead to the emergency room to make sure her insurance was accepted.

"They assured me 'Yes' I am in network," Vincent said at the time. She would later learn the facility where she was treated was not in-network and she received a bill for the balance that was not covered by insurance.

“I felt like I was on a Ferris wheel. I was going around and around. I'd get somebody and they'd say, ‘I'm not the person.' I'd tell someone else my story and they would transfer me somewhere else," Vincent said.