BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Legislation to create transparency in medical bills sent to patients and to rein in predatory medical debt collectors headed to the Idaho Senate Monday after an extraordinary debate in the House.
Representatives approved the legislation in a 49-20 vote after a two-hour debate where lawmakers shared personal stories, some decrying late-arriving medical bills or experiences with predatory debt collectors.
The bill seeks to cap medical collection debt fees at $350 for people who do not contest their bills and $750 for those who do. It would also set a 45-day deadline for medical facilities to get consolidated bills to patients.
“In my opinion, there have been some unusual and unfortunate situations in this state,” said Republican Rep. Jason Monks, the House assistant majority leader who sponsored the bill.
Billionaire Frank VanderSloot, founder of Idaho Falls-based wellness shopping club Melaleuca, helped initiate the legislation after a debt collection agency targeted one of his employees, tacking on legal fees that turned a $294 bill into $5,500. He’s also spent $1 million in legal fees defending people who he said appear to have been caught up in predatory medical billing by attorneys.
He has said the company that targeted his employee is Idaho Falls-based Medical Recovery Services. That company lists as a manager Byran Zollinger, an attorney and a Republican representative from the area. He spent about an hour arguing against the legislation.
“Medical providers have a proprietary right to their bills, and this bill aims to take that proprietary right away,” he said. “This is not the Idaho way. Frankly, I think it’s flat out unAmerican.”
Republican House Majority Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma spoke in favor of the bill, noting that she continued receiving bills after having already paid them and been reimbursed.
“I have paid that medical bill three different times,” she said.
Republican Rep. Barbara Ehardt of Idaho Falls voted against the bill, saying there were aspects she liked but it also had negative ramifications. Bills “will be required to be paid in full before the procedure,” she said.
“This is a good thing,” Republican Rep. Rod Furniss said. “This is an amazing thing. This is going to change the industry over time. This bill has so many unintended consequences of good things.”
All 14 House Democrats voted to support the legislation, but only Rep. John Gannon spoke in favor of the bill, and then only to clarify how a case could move from small claims court to magistrate court to be heard before a jury.
That left the super-majority of Republicans, who are typically wary of legislation perceived as not letting the free market run its course, debating the bill that now heads to the Senate.