Skip to main content

What is a “surprise medical bill” and what should I know about the No Surprises Act?

A surprise medical bill is an unexpected bill from an out-of-network provider or at an out-of-network facility. Effective January 1, 2022, the No Surprises Act may protect you.

Medical debts often occur after an accident or sudden illness. Consumers are rarely informed of the costs of medical treatment before emergency treatment and may have little or no ability to “shop around.” When you get a medical bill, you may not know if you actually received the billed treatment, if the correct amount was billed, if the amount is covered by insurance, and if the amount was already paid or partially paid.

What is a Surprise Medical Bill?

A surprise medical bill is an unexpected bill, and one form involves bills for services received from a health care provider or facility that you did not know was out-of-network (e.g., had not negotiated a reimbursement rate with your insurance company) until you were billed. Your health insurance may not cover the entire out-of-network cost which could leave you owing the difference between the out of network provider’s bill and the amount your health insurance paid. This is known as “balance billing.” This bill could be for a service like anesthesiology or laboratory tests. You may not know that the provider or facility is out-of-network until you are billed.

How does the No Surprises Act protect me?

Effective January 1, 2022, one feature of the No Surprises Act (NSA) protects you from surprise billing for emergency services if you have a group health plan or group or individual health insurance coverage, and limit amount of:

  • Surprise bills for emergency services from an out-of-network provider or facility and without prior authorization
  • Out-of-network cost-sharing, like out-of-network coinsurance or copayments, for all emergency and some non-emergency services
  • Out-of-network charges and balance bills for supplemental care, like radiology or anesthesiology, by out-of-network providers that work at an in-network facility

The No Surprise Act aims to limit the amount you pay out of pocket to a level closer to what you would pay if the healthcare provider were in-network. The Act defines this limit using a recognized market amount or qualifying figure (like the average fee for the service). It generally applies your insurance plan's co-pay and cost-sharing percentages. Additionally, the Act outlines a process for your insurance company and the provider to settle disputes over the provider's charges, ensuring fair resolution. The Act also requires some health care facilities and providers to disclose Federal and State patient protections against balance billing and sets forth complaint processes with respect to violations of the protections against balance billing and out-of-network cost sharing.

If you don’t have health insurance or if you pay for care without using your health insurance, then you will get a “good faith” estimate of how much your care will cost BEFORE you get care. If you’ve had your care and find that the billed amount is at least $400 above the good faith estimate, you may be able to dispute the charges .

You may already be protected against surprise medical billing if you have coverage through Medicare, Medicaid, Indian Health Services, Veterans Affairs Health Care, or TRICARE.

If I have health insurance, can I waive my protections under the No Surprises Act?

If you’re using health insurance , out-of-network providers or emergency facilities may ask you to sign a notice and consent form to waive your protections before providing certain services after you’re no longer in need of emergency care. These are called “post-stabilization services.” You may also be asked to sign a notice and consent form if you schedule certain non-emergency services with an out-of-network provider at an in-network hospital or ambulatory surgical center.

The notice and consent form informs you about your protections from unexpected medical bills, gives you the option to give up those protections and pay more for out-of-network care, and provides an estimate of what your out-of-network care might cost. You aren’t required to and shouldn’t sign the form if you didn’t have a choice of health care provider or facility before scheduling care. If you don’t sign, you may have to reschedule your care with a provider or facility in your health plan’s network.

View an example of a notice and consent form (PDF)

What should I do if I receive a surprise bill and have a billing disagreement?

Your rights under the No Surprises Act depend on whether you have health insurance or if you are uninsured. In either case, you are protected :

If you are insured and your health plan denies all or part of a claim for service, you can appeal that decision. Your plan documents will contain information on the review process and how you request review of your plan’s decision.

Starting on January 1, 2022, you generally won’t be responsible for balance bills or out-of-network cost-sharing when getting emergency care, non-emergency care from out-of-network providers at certain in-network facilities, or air ambulance services from out-of-network providers. When this happens, instead of you paying for unexpected out-of-network costs, you’ll generally only need to pay your normal in-network costs (like coinsurance, copayments, and amounts paid towards deductibles). The health care provider and your health plan are responsible for negotiating the total payment amount from the plan to the provider through an independent dispute resolution process.

If you are uninsured or self-pay for insurance, starting on January 1, 2022, you should receive a good faith estimate of costs for your care from your provider when you either schedule that care or if you call and request the estimate. After you get the care, if you are billed for an amount more than $400 over the good faith estimate and you got the bill within the last 120 calendar days, you can use the new dispute resolution process to determine the final payment amount. This process uses a third-party arbitrator to review the good faith estimate, the final bill, and any other information submitted by your provider or facility.

Learn how to dispute your bill .

Where do I go to get more help or file a complaint?

If you have a question about the No Surprises Act or believe the law isn’t being followed, you can take action by:

If you still need help with your health insurance and have a problem or question, contact your state Consumer Assistance Program. These programs help consumers experiencing problems with their health insurance or seeking to learn about health coverage options.

Visit the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for more information .