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Senate Bill 1264 Texas Balance Billing

2019 Update on Balance Billing and Texas Healthcare Law

This article updates the prior article, “Balance billing and Texas healthcare law.”

“Balance billing” occurs when doctors, hospitals, or other health care providers who are not contracted with a patient’s health maintenance organization (HMO) or preferred provider benefit plan (PPO) bill the patient for the difference between the amount the health plan pays and the amount the provider believes to be the adequate cost of a service.

For example, a patient may visit the emergency room at a hospital that is contracted with her health plan, but the emergency room doctor who treats her is not contracted with that health plan. The emergency room doctor and the hospital each bill $1,000 for their services, and the health plan pays them each $400. The hospital, which is contracted with the patient’s health plan, may bill the patient only for the copayments, deductibles, and coinsurance amounts under her plan. However, the emergency room doctor, who is not contracted with the patient’s health plan, may bill her for the $600 that her health plan didn’t pay, as well as any copayments, deductibles, and coinsurance that she owes.

Some providers and health plans display cost information on their websites. Texas law also gives patients the right to request, in advance, estimates of charges from providers and facilities and estimated payments from health plans. However, the law allows doctors, other providers, and health plans up to 10 days to provide patients the estimates. As a result, patients cannot obtain advance notice of possible balance billing costs in emergent situations.

Senate Bill 1264

To combat this issue, the Texas Legislature recently passed Senate Bill 1264 (“SB 1264”), which makes balance billing illegal for emergency services but is limited to Texas regulated health plans. SB 1264 contains an exemption if the provider provides written disclosure to the patient informing them:

  1. that their health plan does not cover the provider,
  2. the projected cost the patient could be responsible for, and
  3. under what circumstances the patient will be responsible for those amounts.

Before SB 1264, Texas law did not give consumers many rights with regard to disputing a balance billing they were surprised to receive. SB 1264 significantly improves the dispute resolution process for consumers by removing the patient from the process altogether.

Instead, the onus is on the health plan to initiate mediation or arbitration because the excess charges cannot be passed down to the patient. 

Mediation is conducted for health plans and facility providers, i.e., hospitals, but is only applicable if the patient cannot be billed, and the charges are for emergency services, diagnostic imaging, or laboratory services. Arbitration will be for health plans and providers that are not facilities, i.e., individual physicians. While arbitration is binding, the arbitrator may only determine reasonable cost of the medical services rendered.

While the remedies of SB 1264 are still being implemented, including the mediation and arbitration processes, it is a great first step in protecting Texas consumers from inequitable balance billing practices.


Scott Chase | Health Law

Attorney Scott Chase is a health law and corporate attorney at Farrow-Gillespie Heath Witter LLP.  Mr. Chase has been named to the lists of Best Lawyers in America (U.S. News & World Report), Texas Super Lawyers (a Thomson Reuters service), and Best Lawyers in Dallas (D Magazine) in every year for more than a decade.

Mr. Chase thanks intern Stephen Chance for his contributions to the article. Stephen Chance is a 2019 summer intern with Farrow-Gillespie Heath Witter and a law student at SMU Dedman School of Law.

The Expansion (Finally) of Telemedicine in Texas: A Brief History and Future Applications and Considerations for Healthcare Providers

If you are a healthcare provider in Texas looking to supplement, or even transition, your practice into telemedicine, now is your time. Texas has always been a prime candidate for the benefits of telemedicine. It is an expansive state, with a large rural population that is often distant from medical care.

Thus, Texas residents are uniquely situated to take advantage of the outcome improvements and cost savings that telemedicine can provide.

Nevertheless, Texas was the last state to welcome telemedicine into its borders, in that it was the last state to abolish the requirement that a telemedicine provider first establish a patient-physician relationship via an in-patient visit. Now, after a lengthy court battle, this requirement has been eliminated, and providers are free to initiate patient-physician relationships in the telemedicine realm. While there was an immediate reaction by key players in the healthcare landscape to expand telemedicine in Texas, there remain a lot of unknowns that Texas healthcare providers should be aware of as they enter the world of telemedicine.

The Genesis and Outcome of Teladoc, Inc. v. Texas Medical Board

Teladoc, Inc. (“Teladoc”), one of the largest telemedicine providers in the United States, is based in Dallas and had been operating in Texas since 2005. Following amendments by the Texas Medical Board (“TMB”) to the state’s telemedicine regulatory scheme, Teladoc was forced to cease its telemedicine operations.

Eventually, Teladoc filed suit in federal court, alleging the TMB’s actions violated federal antitrust laws and the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. The parties then agreed to stay the proceedings to pursue settlement negotiations. These negotiations culminated in Texas Senate Bill 1107 (“SB 1107”), which was signed into law on May 27, 2017. Senate Bill 1107 abolished the requirement of an in-patient visit prior to utilizing telemedicine services. The new legislation applies across all telemedicine platforms.

Expansion Plans for Texas Telemedicine and Beyond

On September 22, 2017, the DWC announced “New 28 Texas Administrative Code § 133.30, Telemedicine Services” (the “Proposed Rule”). The Proposed Rule’s stated purpose is to “expand the accessibility of telemedicine services in the Texas workers’ compensation system by allowing health care providers to bill and be reimbursed for telemedicine services regardless of where the injured employee is located at the time the services are delivered.”

To reach this goal, the Proposed Rule included the removal of a Medicare-based reimbursement restriction that services be provided to injured employees at an originating site located in an area where there is a shortage of healthcare professionals. In other words, the Proposed Rule now allows a provider to bill and be reimbursed for telemedicine services no matter where the injured employee is located at the time the services are delivered.

Similarly, federal lawmakers are taking heed of the benefits of telemedicine. On November 7, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed The Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support Act of 2017 (“VETS Act”). Much like the Proposed Rule issued by the DWC, the VETS Act eases geographic restrictions on telemedicine provided to veterans and aims to ensure that veterans, rural and disabled veterans in particular, can receive care across state lines.

The U.S. Senate passed its version of the VETS Act on January 4, 2018, which is slightly different than the House’s version, in that it bars individual states from taking disciplinary action against physicians who practice telemedicine across state lines.

Private employers are also noticing the benefits of telemedicine, and there has been a sharp increase in the number of large employers who see telemedicine services as a way to optimize how health care is accessed and delivered, while offsetting overall healthcare costs. More specifically, the Large Employers’ 2018 Health Care Strategy and Plan Design Survey found that 96 percent of large employers intend to make telemedicine services available to their employees at some point in calendar year 2018.

Considerations for the Telemedicine Provider

Whether a provider has been offering telemedicine services for some time or is just now getting in the game, there are some important issues to consider in updating or implementing telemedicine policies and procedures:

  • Telemedicine is a moving target – As of now, there is no uniformity across state lines in the regulation of telemedicine. From state-to-state, many crucial statutory definitions vary significantly. It is unclear how federal legislation like the VETS Act will resolve these discrepancies, if at all. Therefore, providers licensed in different states or providing services across state lines should comply with the rules and regulations of every state they encounter, including formal, regulatory schemes and the practice requirements set forth by the state’s medical board.
  • Data breach and cybersecurity risks – The provision of telemedicine exposes patients to increased cyber, privacy, and data security risks. Before launching a telemedicine practice, providers should conduct a thorough risk analysis aiming to implement policies and procedures that, at a minimum, comply with the HIPAA Security Rule and set forth an incident response plan that incorporates all applicable regulatory requirements.
  • The battle for universal reimbursement – One of the major barriers to a provider’s implementation of a robust telemedicine practice is the lack of universal reimbursement, both from Medicare and private payers. Providers should consider this issue in building their telemedicine business models, as ultimately, the telemedicine industry needs universal reimbursement to become widespread and economically sustainable.

Katie M. Ackels is a ligation attorney with broad experience for a diverse client base. Ms. Ackels primary practice areas are business litigation, employment litigation defense, personal injury litigation defense, and healthcare litigation. She graduated magna cum laude from Texas Tech University School of Law.