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Can lawmakers help take the sting out of surprise medical bills?

Almost everyone has to deal with a large, unexpected medical bill at some point. A car crash, burst appendix, skiing accident or bout of food poisoning can send you or a family member to the nearest emergency room or urgent care facility. Sometimes, we’re taken there by an ambulance or a loved one, and we have no say in choosing our medical provider — let alone worrying about whether they’re in our insurance network.

That’s what can make these surprise medical bills so devastating. When a hospital, doctor and/or lab is out-of-network, a patient can be stuck with thousands of dollars in expenses.

The problem is so serious that the U.S. Congress, in a rare show of bipartisanship, is drafting legislation to curtail the price of emergency out-of-network treatment, both in the House of Representatives and the Senate. The No Surprises Act in the House has gotten the most attention.

The bill would set rates based on the specific market area. Among its other provisions is a required 24-hour notice to patients who are getting elective medical treatment that a facility or doctor will be using an out-of-network provider, such as a lab.

While both parties seem to agree that something needs to be done to lessen the sting of surprise medical bills, not everyone is in favor of it. Voters are being hit with television ads and mailers from groups with friendly names like Doctor Patient Unity telling them to urge their representatives to vote against “rate setting by big insurance companies.”

A recent New York Times investigation discovered that two doctor-staffing companies owned by private-equity firms are playing an instrumental role in the savvy campaign to kill the “no surprises” legislation. Such price control would hurt their bottom line.

When the true source of funding for political ads isn’t easy to determine, it’s called “dark money.” In this case, that dark money is being provided by those who would suffer financially if legislation like the No Surprises Act becomes law.

Medical debt can cause financial devastation for families. However, regardless of what type of debt you have, if it’s making just paying basic living expenses difficult, you should determine what your debt relief options are and choose the one that’s best for you.

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