Surprise! Out-of-Network Billing for Emergency Care in the United States
NBER Working Paper No. 23623
Hospitals and physicians independently negotiate contracts with insurers. As a result, a privately insured individual can attend an in-network hospital emergency department, but receive care and potentially a large, unexpected bill from an out-of-network emergency physician working at that hospital. Because patients do not choose their emergency physician, emergency physicians can remain out-of-network and charge high prices without losing patient volume. As we illustrate, this strong outside option improves emergency physicians’ bargaining power with insurers. We then analyze a New York State law that introduced binding arbitration between emergency physicians and insurers and therefore weakened physicians’ outside option in negotiations. We observe that the New York law reduced out-of-network billing by 34 percent and lowered in-network emergency physician payments by 9 percent.
Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23623
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