BOISE — It’s no secret that dealing with medical debt can be a complicated and confusing process.
But if Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot has his way, the process may become significantly more understandable and transparent in the Gem State.
The business leader spent Wednesday in Boise pitching new legislation to members of the Idaho House and Senate and members of the media. The Idaho Patient Act aims to provide medical practices and hospitals with specific guidelines on how they bill patients, and how they collect on unpaid or delinquent debts.
“We’re here to try to get some loopholes fixed that we believe exist in Idaho law that allows egregious collection of medical debt that currently run up attorney fees to be far in excess of what the medical bills originally were,” VanderSloot said. “We have some firms in Idaho that are taking advantage of those loopholes, and we’re trying to close them.”
Specifically, the Idaho Patient Act proposes the following:
All health care providers must submit all bills for procedures performed to an insurance carrier within 30 days.
Within 60 days, the patient must receive a summary of services rendered during treatment and recovery, including the names and contact information for all entities that may be billing the patient separately, such as an individual doctor.
All providers must then send a final statement with a total amount owned the patient after insurance. The bill must correspond with the original list of services.
Health care providers must wait 60 days after sending the final notice before charging a patient interest on an outstanding bill. They must wait 180 days from the final statement before they take “extraordinary collection actions,” which means a lawsuit, hiring a collection agency or reporting a patient to a credit bureau for failure to pay.
Finally, in medical debt cases that result in litigation, the bill would limit attorney fees to $350 for uncontested cases and $750 for contested cases. Currently, there is no official cap for fees that can be charged to delinquent patients by collection agencies and their representing lawyers.
During a press conference, VanderSloot stressed the legislation is not about making things more difficult for medical providers.
“We are so supportive of the medical community,” VanderSloot said. “Doctors deserve to be paid, but it’s wrong to take a $294 medical bill and turn it into a $6,000 attorney fee bill. That’s exactly what’s happening.”
VanderSloot was referring to a collection case involving a Melaleuca employee and Idaho Falls-based Medical Recovery Services. Following a back-and-forth legal battle between Melaleuca and the debt collector, the woman found herself facing possible attorney’s fees of more than $5,000 for what was an approximately $300 debt.
Read more about the case between Melaleuca and MRS here.
Since that case was resolved, VanderSloot and his wife, Belinda, have pledged $1 million to fight egregious debt collection practices in court. They are currently involved in some 201 debt collection cases, many of which were initially filed by lawyers on behalf of MRS.
VanderSloot said he is happy to help people fight egregious attorney fees, but more needs to be done, which is why he is bringing his proposed legislation to Boise.
“Honestly, it would have cost us less to just pay everybody’s medical bills, but that would not have solved the problem,” VanderSloot said. “These folks would have continued operating like they’re operating. So we’ve decided to defend against the egregious attorney processes and still get the medical bill paid. That’s what we think is a better solution.”
Bryan Smith, who represents and partially owns MRS, told EastIdahoNews.com he is not involved in the legislation and won’t be issuing any comment about it. Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls is also employed by MRS. He told the Post Register Wednesday he wouldn’t be voting for the bill in its current form.
“For me, it’s really easy,” Zollinger told the newspaper. “I’ve never voted for a bill that increases regulation like this does, just on principle. I always vote for less regulation, and this bill is five-and-a-half pages of regulation. I’m worried about the costs that are going to be passed on to the end consumer.”
Other lawmakers appear to be in favor of the legislation. EastIdahoNews.com visited with various lawmakers in Boise on Wednesday about their opinions on the proposed legislation. Many are still waiting to see the bill in its completed form, but are optimistic about its goals.
“They shouldn’t be playing those games,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Brent Hill, R-Rexburg. “We’re talking about their livelihood and … in most cases, they’ve gone through a very difficult time in their lives, and they don’t need to get a bill six to eight months month later from some anesthesiologist they’ve never even met.”
The bill is being sponsored by Assistant House Majority Leader Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian.
“I wouldn’t carry a bill that I didn’t think we didn’t need to fix,” he said. “This is a situation where I think we needed some adjustments in what’s there with the law, and I think what we’ve got is a great product that’s going to be better for the people of Idaho. We’re going to provide more transparency for them and a little bit more protection for them on the backend of it.”
The bill is also finding bipartisan support.
“Democrats are all about standing up for the little guy,” said House Assistant Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise. “We, of course, want to make sure that’s happening in a way that doesn’t impair the provision of medical services, and we want to make sure there’s always access to quality medical care. But I think protecting patients from abusive practices is a very worthy thing to explore.”
VanderSloot and Monks plan to introduce the legislation into a committee for debate in the coming weeks.