Brown seeks to prevent ‘ambush’ medical billing

Published 10:18 am Thursday, February 16, 2017

Calls for independent counsel to investigate Trump-Russia ties

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, is pushing for an end to the practice of “surprise billing,” in which he says patients are faced with costly medical bills after unintentionally receiving care from an out-of-network provider.

Brown outlined the End Surprise Billing Act in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.

The senator said the bill protects patients who experience a medical emergency from being charged more than in-network rates for care and would provide patients scheduling services with more information about possible out-of-pocket costs.

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“When you’re rushed to the hospital for a heart attack, the last thing you or your loved ones should have to worry about is whether the nearest hospital is in-network,” Brown said. “Ohioans work hard and pay their insurance premiums every month, and this bill makes sure it will be there for them if an emergency happens.”

He was joined on the call by Daniel Kueper, an Ohio resident who was faced with a large bill for emergency care after a hospital stay.

Kueper said he drove himself to an emergency room after experiencing chest pains and the doctors determined he was having a heart attack.

“I went there because it was an excellent facility and I had been there before,” he said.

He was taken from the emergency room to surgery, where he was given three stents.

Kueper, who had insurance through his employer, said it was only later that he received a bill, informing him that the surgeon was out of network and that he owed nearly $17,000.

“I felt it was unfair that I was billed an exorbitant fee for an out of network doctor,” he said.

He noted that he was under anesthesia at the time and could not have been properly informed.

Brown said Kueper, who eventually settled with the surgeon for $6,000, had contacted his office about the matter.

“The last thing a patient needs is to be ambushed by a surprise bill,” he said. “People don’t see it coming. They’re home, they feel better, they’re doing OK and then they get that.”

Brown said the practice is widespread and surveys show that one out of three Americans have had similar experiences.

Brown was also asked on the call about recent developments with the Trump administration and the resignation of Gen. Michael Flynn as national security advisor.

Flynn, whose 24 days in the position was the shortest in U.S. history, was under investigation by the FBI for his contacts with Russia. Intelligence officials said Flynn, prior to being sworn in, had discussed with Russian officials the possibility of lifting sanctions put in place after the intelligence community concluded Russia had been behind the hacking of Democratic Party officials in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Brown has called for an independent investigation of the Trump administration’s ties to Russia, to be conducted separately from the Republican-controlled Senate.

“I’ve spoken to members of both parties who are concerned,” he said.

He noted that any investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, is calling for, would not be public.

“That would concern me,” Brown said.

McConnell has opposed an independent investigation into the matter.

“We need to look at ties between our government, and not just Flynn, and the Russian government,” Brown said, adding that he has not seen such a level of concern before in Washington. “The ties look deeper than originally thought between this administration and the Russian government.”

Following the conference call, Brown issued a letter, along with 10 other Democratic senators, calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself and appoint an independent counsel to investigate.

“An independent investigation is now necessary to determine what General Flynn did, who knew about it, and when,” Brown and his colleagues wrote in the letter. “To maintain the confidence, credibility and impartiality of the Department of Justice, we urge you to immediately appoint an independent Special Counsel to investigate collusion with the Russian government by General Flynn and other Trump campaign, transition, and administrative officials.”