Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford, showed her support for President Donald Trump's call for Congress to address surprise medical bills by attending a White House event on Thursday.

“We are determined to end surprise medical billing,” Trump said.

Surprise billing or "balance billing" is what happens when an insured patient is charged for care that is more expensive than anticipated or not covered by the person's insurance. People may go the hospital in their insurance network, but then discover later that the doctor that provided care wasn't in their network.

“We are going to hold insurance companies and hospitals totally accountable,” said Trump, who was joined by state lawmakers and members of Congress.



Real-life stories of people surprised at receiving a medical bill of thousands and tens of thousands of dollars has helped the issue gain momentum with lawmakers. One man who visited the White House said he was sent a $110,000 bill after being taken to the hospital suffering from a heart attack. His experience was highlighted by Kaiser Health News, which has focused on the issue.

Several states have passed laws or introduced programs to help protect patients from surprise medical bills. It's a rare public policy problem that has bipartisan support among lawmakers.

Health insurers, hospitals and doctors have disagreed on the best solution. It comes down to money and a disagreement between providers and insurers over how much treatment is worth. Insurers pay what they assess to be fair, and then providers bill the patients, which can leave them with massive bills.

Byron sponsored one of several bills this past legislative session aiming to end the practice of balance billing. None of them passed both the state House and Senate.

Byron has stressed patients shouldn't have to be great negotiators to avoid being hit by costly charges. She said she's talked to people and heard about the damage balance bills have inflicted on their budgets and credit reports.

“If we’re going to come down and not do something for the patient, then we have failed," Byron told the House Commerce and Labor Committee in January, which later did not advance her bill . "And we have said time and time again they are the ones who matter and need to be protected.”

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Amy Friedenberger is the politics reporter for The Roanoke Times. She's been a reporter here since 2014. Previously, she worked for newspapers in Pennsylvania. Follow her on Twitter at @ajfriedenberger.

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