Effective January 1, 2022, the No Surprises Act, which Congress passed as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, is designed to protect patients from surprise bills for emergency services at out-of-network facilities or for out-of-network providers at in-network facilities, holding them liable only for in-network cost-sharing amounts. The No Surprises Act also enables uninsured patients to receive a good faith estimate of the cost of care.
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.
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.
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.
Additionally, California law protects patients with coverage through plans regulated by the California Department of Managed Care from balance billing when the patient receives emergency services from an out-of-network doctor or hospital. This protection only requires patients to pay their in-network cost sharing amounts.
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.
Additionally, California law protects patients with health care service plans from balance billing when patients receive covered services at an in-network facility by an out-of-network provider. This protection requires patients to only pay their in-network cost-sharing amount. If the patient consents to services in advance, the balance billing prohibition does not apply.
If you believe you’ve been wrongly billed, you may contact:
If you do not know what kind of plan you have, you can call the California Department of Insurance Help Center at 1-800-927-4357.
You have the right to receive a “Good Faith Estimate” explaining how much your medical care will cost.
Under the law, healthcare providers need to give patients who don’t have insurance or who are not using insurance an estimate of the bill for medical items and services.
For questions or more information about your right to a Good Faith Estimate, visit cms.gov/nosurprises or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).