Senator Carper hosts a discussion about surprise medical bills

About four out of ten Americans receive healthcare bills they did not expect.

Sometimes they amount to thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars.

Stories about surprise medical bills were shared Thursday in Wilmington at a roundtable discussion hosted by Senator Tom Carper (D- Delaware). Carper helped to introduce a bill he said would address several scenarios in which a patient could be hit with an unexpected medical bill.

Bills can arrive some time after treatment. The patient may have no memory of why an out-of-network expense was incurred.

In one case, bills arrived after a woman's husband had died.

"They end up with a big bill. They're trying to recover from why they're sick, the illness or injury they faced. They're trying to think, how do I come up with thousands of dollars to deal with this. It's just more than you ought to put on a person," Carper said.

The STOP Surprise Medical Bills Act has bipartisan support. Carper said it would essentially keep the patient out of disagreements between providers and insurers in matters such as out-of-network bills. A certified dispute resolution entity could be called upon in cases of disputed payments.

The session was held at the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Delaware facility in Wilmington.

"Access to affordable health care services is essential for many people with mental illness to successfully manage their condition and get on a path of recovery. Yet surprise medical bills are an increasingly common concern for people seeking mental health services," NAMI in Delaware Director of Advocacy and Education Anne Slease said. "People with mental health needs are often disproportionately impacted by surprise medical billing, especially when receiving inpatient psychological care. This compromises recovery and creates further barriers to mental health care."

As a person ages, he or she may be increasingly likely to receive a surprise medical bill, according to AARP State Director Lucretia Young.

"You are using more services, if it's a physician, hospital, laboratory, imaging... there are all types of chances that you may receive one of these surprise medical bills," Young said.

"We can do better than this," Carper said. "We need to be more fair and equitable."

Reporter - Anchor

Mark Fowser is a veteran journalist in Delaware.