Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Bill to Curb Medical Fees Dead for Now

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Bill to Curb Medical Fees Dead for Now

Article excerpt

A bill intended to rein in exorbitant, surprise medical costs is on hold and unlikely to pass the Legislature anytime soon, leaving supporters to say patients will continue to be hit with excessive bills.

The measure has stalled repeatedly in the last several years after resistance from the health care and insurance industries.

The latest iteration of the bill, formally called the Out-of- Network Consumer Protection, Transparency, Cost Containment and Accountability Act, was scheduled for a Thursday vote by a Senate panel, but the bill's sponsor tabled the proposal because it didn't have the support.

The Senate sponsor, Middlesex County Democrat Joseph Vitale, fumed on Friday that the bill had effectively been killed for this session, meaning it will have to be reintroduced and heard by committees all over again next year. He blamed the "greed" of special interests in the medical and insurance communities for pressuring lawmakers whose votes were essential to sending it to the full Legislature for a vote and, possibly, to Governor Christie for consideration.

"I believe special interests won to protect the status quo, and the status quo means consumers are still vulnerable to getting ripped off," Vitale said.

For at least seven years, lawmakers have been working toward a legislative solution to protect consumers who unknowingly go under the care of a doctor or specialist outside their insurance network, only to be hit with large medical bills. Over the summer and into the fall, Vitale and the Assembly sponsors, Gary Schaer of Passaic and Craig Coughlin of Middlesex County, met regularly to get input from constituencies and seemed to be near legislation that satisfied doctors, hospital groups and medical groups while preserving the intent of the bill -- protecting consumers.

But medical and health care organizations still had concerns, especially over the baseball-style arbitration included in the bill to resolve payment disputes between insurers and health care providers. A bipartisan state commission had recommended passing the legislation and estimated it would save between $22 million and $98 million a year for state and public employees. …

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