In a recent post, the Oklahoma Hospital Association (OHA) seemed to imply that it finds “troubling” the idea that hospitals should provide patients a good-faith estimate of costs prior to a medical treatment.
OHA noted that Senate Bill 548, authored by state Sen. Julie Daniels (R-Bartlesville) and state Rep. Tammy Townley (R-Ardmore), passed the Oklahoma Senate and has moved to the Oklahoma House of Representatives. In its summary of the bill, OHA explained that SB 548 would “prohibit a hospital from collecting medical debt unless a good faith estimate is agreed to by the consumer prior to care being provided.”
According to the legislation, medical providers would not be able to report the medical debt to collections or sue the patient if a good faith estimate was not provided for routine services or procedures in non-emergency cases.
Sen. Daniels says SB 548 is “designed to make sure that a consumer will not be surprised by a report of medical debt to a credit bureau or surprised to be called by a collection agency because they didn’t know the cost of the service they were to receive.”
At most hospitals and doctors’ offices in Oklahoma, patients don’t receive a good faith estimate for scheduled services or procedures. For those insured, a small war may need to be waged to get their insurance company and the hospital to cough up a price estimate, despite the fact the insurance company and the hospital have already agreed to network rates during prior negotiations.
For many that give up their quest for an estimate and go ahead with their medical service, they later receive piles of bills filled with cryptic coding and high prices. As the healthcare service prices continue to climb—and the stories stack up of patients receiving bills filled with costly errors resulting in inflated prices—the big players in health care have taken more heat from the media and the public.
Nonprofit Hospital Lawsuits
In recent years, some member hospitals of the Oklahoma Hospital Association have garnered negative attention for the number of lawsuits they have filed against their patients.
In 2019, Oklahoma Watch reported a total of 22,520 lawsuits were filed against patients from 2016 to 2019; many of those hospitals which filed the most lawsuits were nonprofit hospitals. One OHA member hospital, Integris Baptist Medical Center, a nonprofit hospital located in Oklahoma City with net profits of $63 and $54 million in 2018 and 2017 respectively, sued 1,120 patients during this time.
Last year, Oklahoma Watch reported which hospitals had continued to file suits against patients during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
“At least 1,178 lawsuits were filed since Gov. Kevin Stitt declared a statewide health emergency on April 2 in response to the state’s COVID-19 spread,” Oklahoma Watch reported. “The vast majority of the bills, even those filed in recent weeks, stem from hospital visits that occurred in 2019 or earlier. The majority of post-April 2 lawsuits identified by Oklahoma Watch came from five hospital systems: AllianceHealth’s seven Oklahoma hospitals (841 lawsuits), Saint Francis Health System (158 lawsuits), Integris (80 lawsuits), Hillcrest Health Care System (48), and Norman Regional Health System (47).”
If Senate Bill 548 becomes law, patients would have a better idea of what their medical services will cost, cutting down on the number of surprise phone calls from collection agencies and the number of unexpected court summonses. Patients have the right to know how much they will be obligated to pay before the procedure. As medical prices keep climbing, it’s imperative that patients have the ability to get price information so they may find the best care and the best price.