Idaho Patient Act goes to House floor after emotionally charged testimony from both sides
BOISE — After hearing passionate and sometimes heated testimony, the House Business & Consumer Committee advanced the Idaho Patient Act to the House floor.
All but two legislators of the 18-person committee gave the Idaho Patient Act a “do pass” Wednesday. The recommendation came after individuals for and against the bill testified for five hours.
“We don’t have a free market in health care,” Rep. Jason Monks, R-Nampa, said during Wednesday’s hearing. “We don’t always get to pick our contractor.”
Monks is the sponsor of the Idaho Patient Act. He said he chose to sponsor the bill because he feels it is something the Legislature needs to pass.
His sentiments were echoed in Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt’s, R-Eagle, tearful urgings to her fellow committee members to pass the bill.
“If you’ve grown up in a home without insurance, if you’ve raised a family at any point without insurance, if you’ve ever had medical bills or medical debt, if you’ve ever had to testify in front of a judge regarding medical debt, then you will know how much this needs to be done,” DeMordaunt said.
The Idaho Patient Act, HB 515, would institute new timelines for billing, require transparency regarding the services being billed to patients, implement deadlines for when providers can send a bill to collections and caps the amount attorneys can receive in supplemental attorney’s fees in medical debt-collection lawsuits.
“This is a collections bill … it’s all about the collections side,” Monks said. “We’re seeking to close some of those unintended consequences in our current law that allows collection agencies to sometimes recover 10 times what the original bill was.”
A Nampa man testified he spent years fighting a medical collections lawsuit over a debt he didn’t owe. He said he had negotiated with his medical provider to pay the bill in advance. Despite that, he was sued by a collections firm over $325 he didn’t owe.
“This legislation is absolutely necessary. It puts guard rails, an off-ramp, to prevent this from happening to anyone else,” he said.
He was one of a number of individuals with similar stories who testified in favor of the bill.
Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot also testified in the hearing praising the work the creators of the bill did to craft the legislation.
“I didn’t craft a single word of any of it. But the people who did worked with the Idaho Medical Association, the Idaho Hospital Association, literally dozens and dozens of medical providers to get their input,” VanderSloot said.
As passionate as the testimony in favor the bill was, there was equally passionate testimony against the bill, most notably from Bryan Smith, the owner of Smith Driscoll & Associates and debt collection attorney for Medical Recovery Services.
In his testimony, Smith attacked the motivation behind the creation of the Idaho Patient Act.
“Everybody knows this is Frank VanderSloot’s bill. This wasn’t a bill that was created by the doctors or the lawyers or the collectors or the billing companies. This is Frank VanderSloot’s bill,” Smith said.
He said the only reason the bill exists is because of the legal battle between MRS and a Melaleuca employee that VanderSloot became involved in.
Smith proceeded to detail what happened in that case, saying the claim that the Melaleuca employee never received a bill was untrue.
When asked about the outcome of the case, Smith pointed at EastIdahoNews.com reporters in the room and said MRS dropped the case because our reporting turned the matter into a “circus.”
“They were investigating Medical Recovery based on this case I just shared with you,” Smith said. “They were making statements like, ‘She never did get the statements,’ ‘She didn’t get the collection notices’ etc., etc. — many of the statements that Frank (VanderSloot) said.”
Smith claimed that EastIdahoNews.com made statements about him and MRS that were not true.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: We stand by our reporting on Medical Recovery Services and medical debt collection in eastern Idaho. To read and watch our investigation, click here.)
While Smith answered questions from various committee members on the case, Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, jumped in to try and bring the conversation back to the merits of the bill rather than the case against Melaleuca’s employee.
“This is a hearing on a bill, and we’re sitting here retrying a case that happened, and I’d like to get us back in order. We’ve gone way off track,” Clow said. “This has turned into a retrial of a case that started back in 2013, and we’ve got a bill in front of us.”
Most others who testified against the bill, including MRS attorney and state Rep. Brian Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, said their main concerns involved the time limits placed on providers to send medical bills to insurance companies.
“I agree with the principles of the bill about transparency, about getting these (medical) bills out,” Zollinger said. “Why don’t we have a bill that — as long as they do these things — there’s no deadline? Why is there a deadline on when they have to send these billings out if we hear, again and again, that’s a problem?”
Katie Davenport, the owner of a medical billing company in eastern Idaho, said she is afraid the Idaho Patient Act will ultimately end up costing patients more.
“The providers will not comply with it because they can’t comply with it. They will require patients to pay in full,” Davenport said.
In his closing statements, Monks said he and the creators of the bill worked with health care providers, billing agencies and others that would be affected by the bill to put the bill together.
“We worked extensively, and I worked extensively, with the stakeholders on this,” Monks said. “Any time we are increasing any kind of burden to an entity, they’re not going to be happy.”
Reps. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, and Vito Barbiere, R-Post Falls, were the only two to vote against sending the bill to the house. They said they wanted the creators of the bill to work with its opponents to address some of the concerns about it.
The bill now goes to the House floor for debate. If passed, it will then go to the Senate for more debate and possible amendments. If the Senate passes the bill, it will then go to the governor to be signed into law.