Your Rights and Protections Against Surprise Medical Bills
When you get emergency care or get treated by an out-of-network provider at an in-network hospital or ambulatory surgical center, you are protected from surprise billing or balance billing.
What is “Balance Billing” (Sometimes Called “Surprise Billing”)?
When you see a doctor or other health care provider, you may owe certain out-of-pocket costs, such as a copayment, coinsurance, and/or a deductible. You may have other costs or have to pay the entire bill if you see a provider or visit a health care facility that isn’t in your health plan’s network.
“Out-of-network” describes providers and facilities that haven’t signed a contract with your health plan. Out-of-network providers may be permitted to bill you for the difference between what your plan agreed to pay and the full amount charged for a service. This is called “balance billing.” This amount is likely more than in-network costs for the same service and might not count toward your annual out-of-pocket limit.
“Surprise billing” is an unexpected balance bill. This can happen when you can’t control who is involved in your care—like when you have an emergency or when you schedule a visit at an in-network facility but are unexpectedly treated by an out-of-network provider.
You’re Protected from Balance Billing for:
Under federal law, if you have an emergency medical condition and get emergency services from an out-of-network provider or facility, the most the provider or facility may bill you is your plan’s in-network cost-sharing amount (such as copayments and coinsurance). You can’t be balance billed for these emergency services. This includes services you may get after you’re in stable condition, unless you give written consent and give up your protections not to be balanced billed for these post-stabilization services.
California law also protects enrollees in state regulated plans from surprise medical bills when an enrollee receives emergency services from a doctor or hospital that is not contracted with the patient’s health plan or medical group. If you are a covered enrollee, providers cannot bill you more than their in-network cost sharing.
Certain services at an in-network hospital or ambulatory surgical center
Under federal law, when you get services from an in-network hospital or ambulatory surgical center, certain providers there may be out-of-network. In these cases, the most those providers may bill you is your plan’s in-network cost-sharing amount. This applies to emergency medicine, anesthesia, pathology, radiology, laboratory, neonatology, assistant surgeon, hospitalist, or intensivist services. These providers can’t balance bill you and may not ask you to give up your protections not to be balance billed.
If you get other services at these in-network facilities, out-of-network providers can’t balance bill you, unless you give written consent and give up your protections.
You’re never required to give up your protections from balance billing. You also aren’t required to get care out-of-network. You can choose a provider or facility in your plan’s network.
California law also protects enrollees in state regulated plans from surprise medical bills when an enrollee receives care at an in-network facility such as a hospital, lab, or imaging center, but services are delivered by an out-of-network provider. If you are a covered enrollee, providers cannot bill you more than their in-network cost sharing without your consent. If your plan includes coverage for out-of-network benefits, you may only be billed for the out-of-network cost sharing under California law if you consent in writing at least 24 hours in advance of care and receive a written estimate of the total out-of-pocket cost of care.
When balance billing isn’t allowed, you also have the following protections:
- You are only responsible for paying your share of the cost (like the copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles that you would pay if the provider or facility was in-network). Your health plan will pay out-of-network providers and facilities directly.
- Your health plan generally must:
- Cover emergency services without requiring you to get approval for services in advance (prior authorization).
- Cover emergency services by out-of-network providers.
- Base what you owe the provider or facility (cost-sharing) on what it would pay an in-network provider or facility and show that amount in your explanation of benefits.
- Count any amount you pay for emergency services or out-of-network services toward your deductible and out-of-pocket limit.
If you believe you’ve been wrongly billed, you may contact 1-888-466-2219 for enforcement issues related to state regulated plans. You may contact 1-800-985-3059 or visit www.cms.gov/nosurprises/consumers for enforcement issues related to federally regulated plans.
Visit www.HealthHelp.ca.gov for more information about your rights under state law.
Visit www.cms.gov/nosurprises for more information about your rights under federal law.
You have the right to receive a “Good Faith Estimate” explaining how much your health care will cost
Under the law, health care providers need to give patients who don’t have certain types of health care coverage or who are not using certain types of health care coverage an estimate of their bill for health care items and services before those items or services are provided.
- You have the right to receive a Good Faith Estimate for the total expected cost of any health care items or services upon request or when scheduling such items or services. This includes related costs like medical tests, prescription drugs, equipment, and hospital fees.
- If you schedule a health care item or service at least 3 business days in advance, make sure your health care provider or facility gives you a Good Faith Estimate in writing within 1 business day after scheduling. If you schedule a health care item or service at least 10 business days in advance, make sure your health care provider or facility gives you a Good Faith Estimate in writing within 3 business days after scheduling. You can also ask any health care provider or facility for a Good Faith Estimate before you schedule an item or service. If you do, make sure the health care provider or facility gives you a Good Faith Estimate in writing within 3 business days after you ask.
- If you receive a bill that is at least $400 more for any provider or facility than your Good Faith Estimate from that provider or facility, you can dispute the bill.
- Make sure to save a copy or picture of your Good Faith Estimate and the bill.
Download the following language translations for Your Right to Receive a Good Faith Estimate Notice:
Download the following language translations for Surprise Billing Patient Disclosure Notice: