This session, the General Assembly has an opportunity to ban surprise medical billing for emergency services. Enacting policies that protect the vulnerable should not be a fight—and yet in Virginia it has been when it comes to access and equity in health care.

HB 1251, introduced by Del. Luke Torian, and SB 172 introduced by Sen. Barbara Favola, offer a bold first step in establishing patient protections in “balance billing” circumstances. Passing these bills will remove insured patients from disputes over healthcare payment. The GA has a responsibility to act now to protect consumers from being victimized when their lives are on the line.

In my role as congregational engagement director at the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, I oversee our health equity advocacy programs. We have long fought for access to affordable, quality health care for all. We recognize that getting an insurance card is not a final guarantee. 

A 2017 study by the Urban Institute found that most adults ages 18-64 are insured when they incur medical debt. According to a 2016 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 32% of non-elderly adults point to out-of-network charges as a source of their medical debt.

Instead of being wowed by news stories of congregations or celebrities paying off medical debt in their communities, let’s urge our legislators to end one of its main drivers: surprise billing. Establishing an equitable payment structure between hospitals, providers and insurers will only contribute to greater equity in health care. That should come as no surprise.

Dora Muhammad


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