AUGUSTA — On Tuesday, Gov. Janet Mills signed into law legislation from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, to improve transparency on the use of facility fees in health care and better understand the impact of these fees on Maine patients.
“Access to quality and affordable health care is already a challenge in Maine. The increased use of so-called ‘facility fees’ has only made it more difficult for patients to know how much they will owe when they leave the lab or doctor’s office. What’s worse is that these fees are often avoidable but patients don’t know they exist until it is too late,” said President Jackson. “This new law will help us better understand the scope of the problem and equip the Legislature with the tools to enact laws that make a meaningful difference for Mainers.”
The new law — LD 1795 — directs the Maine Health Data Organization to compile and publish an online report on the payment of facility fees to better understand the scope of the problem and areas where Maine laws fall short. It also directs the Legislature’s Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee draft legislation based on the report.
In addition, the proposal establishes a task force to evaluate the impact of facility fees on patients. The task force would be made up of a diverse group of stakeholders and report back to the Legislature in December. Objectives include:
- Reviewing the industry practices for charging facility fees, looking into how these funds are used and examining the impact of these fees on patients.
- Reviewing federal transparency requirements for hospitals and health insurance carriers regarding cost of treatment, identifying any gaps or redundancies between state laws and federal laws and identifying any problems with enforcement of those laws.
- Considering efforts in other states and by national organizations related to the issue of facility fees and what the implementation of these strategies would mean for health care costs in Maine.
- Making recommendations for changes in laws or rules regarding facility fees and medical cost transparency.
Facility fees can raise the cost of care by hundreds of dollars, and it is difficult for patients to determine what the final bill will amount to before receiving care. This is true even when patients have checked in with their insurance company prior to an appointment.
In Maine, rising health care costs remain a key barrier to care for families. A recent poll from Maine Consumers for Affordable Health Care found that more than one in three Mainers have avoided seeking care due to cost. However, the survey also found that medical bills and medical debt continue to make it harder for Mainers to get by. The survey found that four out of ten Mainers have some sort of medical debt in their household.
The new law will take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns sine die.