Senator calls on FTC to investigate 'surprise' medical bills

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) has urged the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the practice of "surprise" balance billing caused by involuntary out-of-network care as a violation of federal law, reports The New York Times.

Sen. Nelson submitted a letter to the FTC Dec. 1 expressing his particular concern for instances where in-network insurance differs between a hospital facility and its contracted emergency physician group. In these situations, consumers who purposefully visit an in-network hospital facility may still receive an unexpected medical bill for unknowingly receiving care from an out-of-network physician.

Sen. Nelson argued this network discrepancy could make balance billing patients for involuntary out-of-network treatment a violation of the fifth provision of the Federal Trade Commission Act, which generally prohibits "unfair or deceptive acts of practice in or affecting commerce."

"I am concerned that these out-of-network surprise bills could be both unfair and deceptive," Sen. Nelson wrote in the letter.

The letter alone cannot compel the FTC to investigate the issues, but the commission often honors requests of the Congressional Commerce Committee, according to The New York Times. Sen. Nelson is the ranking member of the committee.

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