Zuckerberg hospital puts balance billing on hold

Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital is temporarily halting balance billing as it finalizes a plan to address billing issues long term, the hospital announced.

Balance billing occurs when privately insured patients receive trauma or emergency services from an out-of-network provider and are billed for the balance after the insurance company pays its portion.

For 90 days, the hospital will not initiate or continue balance billing.

"We will hold these patients' bills and then follow the new [long-term] policy once it is in place," hospital spokesperson Brent Andrew told Becker's. "We will continue to bill insurance companies for services during this time."

Privately insured patients could still be left with high bills because the halt isn't retroactive, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

It is also unclear whether patients treated during the temporary billing suspension will be billed when the 90 days is up, Vox reported.

Zuckerberg San Francisco General — renamed after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, MD, donated $75 million to the hospital — is San Francisco's largest public hospital and houses a level 1 trauma center.

Although the hospital primarily treats Medicare, Medicaid and uninsured patients, it has been in the news since a recent Vox report revealed the hospital is out of network with all private health plans.

Greg Wagner, MD, acting director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, and Susan Ehrlich, MD, CEO of Zuckerberg hospital, on Feb. 1 announced some of the measures that will be taken to address billing issues. They include making financial assistance easier to get; improving patient communications; establishing an out-of-pocket limits for patient payments; and studying hospital charges regionally to ensure fair practices and prices at Zuckerberg.

"The billing practices at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center for privately insured patients who receive trauma and emergency services are not working for some of our patients," Dr. Wagner said in a news release. "Keeping the patients' experience as the focal point, we will explore ways to protect patients from financial hardship, increase participation in financial assistance programs, and where possible, recover costs for services from insurers to avoid lost revenues to the city."

Read more about the hospital's plans here.


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