Unmasking medical bills: A step toward helping to alleviate medical debt

Tarrant and Dallas counties have gained national attention but not for an enviable category – they lead the nation in medical debt.

Startling statistics from Kaiser Health News reveal that almost one out of every three (27%) Tarrant County residents carry medical debt on their credit records, with Dallas County residents not far behind at 22%.

The overwhelming burden of medical debt not only hampers an individual’s ability to accumulate wealth and improve their life, but also poses a significant threat to the sustainability of our health care systems.

Considering these distressing numbers, it becomes abundantly clear that Texas’ health care system must become more accessible, affordable, and transparent. The introduction of legislative measures, like House Bill 1973 by state Rep. Caroline Harris, offers vital opportunities for policymakers to begin to address these issues. By equipping individuals with the tools to better advocate for themselves, HB 1973 would revolutionize health care billing and empower families with the information they need to navigate the complex landscape of medical expenses and ensure that their bills are accurate before they pay them.

One of a patient’s most formidable challenges when confronted with medical bills is the lack of itemization. Picture receiving a statement that only provides a total amount due without any breakdown of charges, a mere total that leaves you scratching your head. Without an itemized bill, Texans are left in the dark, unable to determine the specifics of the charges they are expected to pay.

Households thrive when budgets are tracked and managed, and medical bills are no exception. When patients are unable to decipher their medical bills, it can potentially expose them to legal action, as they may be sued for bills that they cannot pay, did not expect and cannot verify.

HB 1973 aims to address this issue by requiring health care providers to deliver itemized bills to patients when they ask for payment from them. Moreover, it directs providers to use plain language descriptions of the charges, disclose all amounts billed to and paid by insurers, and clearly indicate the amount requested from the patient.

Businesses and individuals alike are all too familiar with the spiraling costs of health care, and medical bill transparency is an essential element of a healthy marketplace for healthy families. More than half of Texas adults – including those with insurance – say they or a household member have skipped or postponed needed health care because of the cost.

When too many Texans are making the hard choice between paying for health care and putting food on the table, we must do everything we can to reduce harms from medical billing errors.

Concern about billing accuracy is growing, with one study estimating that a staggering 80% of medical bills contain mistakes. And today’s lack of transparency on what bills include leaves too many Texas patients vulnerable to incorrect charges and financial hardships, as they struggle to verify charges.

HB 1973 would offer hope for Texans grappling with medical billing challenges by empowering patients with the necessary information to verify charges and correct billing errors. This commonsense solution would make a world of difference for Texas families.

Critics argue that producing itemized bills would burden health care providers. However, hospitals are already obligated to provide itemized bills upon request, and electronic delivery methods are readily available. Implementing HB 1973 would simply extend this requirement to post-service payment requests, fostering greater transparency and accountability.

As Texans, we understand the importance of balance and fairness. This bill strikes the right chord and could offer millions of Texans struggling with medical debt a lifeline to help them better understand and resolve outstanding charges.

The time has come for Texas to seize the opportunity to prioritize patient rights, foster financial security and ultimately improve the well-being of all Texans.

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