KHI News Service

Proposal would equalize hospital billings

Private-pay patients would get the same rates afforded those with health insurance

By Mike Shields | January 28, 2010

People without health insurance are generally charged more for the same hospital services than people who have coverage, a consumer spokesperson said Thursday after introducing legislation that would force hospitals "to level the playing field."

"Why should someone pay more, double or triple what other people are paying for the same services," said Tracy Russell, a lobbyist for the Kansas Health Consumer Coalition.

At Russell's request, the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee introduced a bill that would require that hospitals charge so-called private-pay patients the same rates they charge members of group health insurance plans.

The bill language wasn't available for the introduction, but Russell said the measure would offer parity for private-pay patients earning up to 300 percent of federal poverty guidelines or about $55,000 a year for a family of three.

Russell said several states already have similar statutes on the books, including Minnesota where parity is required for private-pay patients earning up to $125,000 a year.

She predicted the measure would meet opposition from hospitals and the insurance industry. Insurance companies typically negotiate with hospitals to obtain significantly discounted rates for their plan members. She said insurers usually don't want to reveal the rates they have negotiated with hospitals for fear competitors will use the information against them and hospitals don't like to be told what to charge.

But Russell said people without health insurance tend to be the same people who would have the most difficulty paying non-discounted rates.

"I think it's a fairness issue," she said.

No hearing date was set for the bill, which has not yet been assigned a number.