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    TAHU Legislative News: Texas Lawmakers Applauded... 6/14/19

    Legislative News – Mike and Shannon Meroney

    Texas Lawmakers Reign in Freestanding ER Abuses

    Governor Greg Abbott has signed two bills into law designed to protect Texas patients from price-gouging, deceptive practices and misleading information at freestanding emergency rooms (FERs).

    On behalf of all health care consumers, the Texas Association of Health Underwriters (TAHU) applauds the governor and Texas lawmakers who passed these sweeping consumer protection laws.

     HB 1941 (Phelan - R)(incorporating SB 866; Watson - D and SB 1549; Schwertner – R) creates a new cause of action against FERs that charge “unconscionable” prices (defined as more than 200% of the average charge for the same services provided by hospital emergency rooms) for emergency care. These charges now qualify as a "false, misleading, or deceptive act or practice,” triggering the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act which entitles the claimant to collect attorneys fees and triple damages.

    Additionally, HB 2041 (Oliverson – R) imposes new transparency requirements on freestanding ERs (FERs). The bill prohibits the use of health plan logos with which they are out of network, prohibits the use of the words “takes” and “accepts” in association with a patient’s insurance unless they are an in-network provider with the plan, and requires a signed disclosure of applicable facility and observation fees. These deceptive practices can leave Texans with outrageous medical bills and often struggling with huge medical debt. Senator Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) sponsored HB 2041 in the Senate.

    Finally, HB 1112 (Davis - R) requires a facility that closes or has a license expire or suspended/revoked to immediately remove  any signs within view of the general public indicating that the facility is in operation.  The display of these signs after the facility has lost its license poses a public health risk to those who may mistakenly go there for emergency care only to find the facility is no longer operational.

    TAHU’s President Nicole Scott said, “On behalf of agents and brokers across Texas and our customers, TAHU thanks Reps. Oliverson and Phelan, and Sens. Taylor and Watson for recognizing and addressing the growing problem with bad actors in the freestanding emergency room market. HB 1941 and HB 2041 will go a long way to help heath care consumers be wary these facilities and better understand what they charge before care is provided. It will also help lower healthcare costs overall and help health plans eventually lower premiums. Texas has been the epicenter of these outrageously high prices for services that can be obtained elsewhere for much less. TAHU is proud to have supported and worked on all three pieces of legislation during the session.”

    All three bills will go into effect on September 1, 2019.