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Senate overwhelmingly passes Idaho Patient Act, now heads to governor’s desk to be signed

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IDAHO FALLS — The Idaho Patient Act is one step closer to becoming law after the Senate voted 32-1 to pass the bill Monday.

The House passed HB-515 last week with a vote of 49-20. Assistant Senate Majority Leader Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, was the only senator to vote against the bill Monday. It will head to Gov. Brad Little’s desk to be signed.

“I believe these medical debt collectors are operating a racket, and I’m excited we’re going to get it stopped,” Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot told EastIdahoNews.com Monday afternoon. “I’m excited by the fact that it passed overwhelmingly.”

VanderSloot spent the past year calling for stricter regulations on medical debt collections when a Melaleuca employee was sued by Medical Recovery Services (MRS) for an outstanding $294 bill she didn’t know she had. After several hearings, Bryan Smith, an MRS attorney, requested nearly $6,000 in attorney fees.

EastIdahoNews.com ran a series of stories about the collection company and VanderSloot was shocked at the number of people with similar stories. He and his wife, Belinda, created a $1 million fund to help defend Idahoans against egregious medical debt collection practices and spent months working with lawmakers in crafting the Idaho Patient Act.

RELATED | Idaho Patient Act goes to House floor after emotionally charged testimony from both sides

Under the bill:

  • Providers must submit a bill to a patient’s insurance company or to the patient within 45 days of providing a service.
  • Patients will receive a single list of everyone that’s going to bill them with 60 days of service.
  • Medical providers cannot sue a patient or turn a bill over to collections until 90 days after the patient receives a final statement.
  • Attorneys’ fees will be limited.

“My only regret with this bill is that it doesn’t go into effect until Jan. 1,” VanderSloot said. “That means these guys are going to use every minute between now and Jan. 1 to get every single last drop of blood they can out of these patients and turn every single bill they can into legal fees.”

Although the bill won’t be implemented until next year, VanderSloot hopes judges will begin implementing the attorney fee portion of the legislation “immediately.”

“There’s nothing that prevents any judge from using this as guidance in their courtroom beginning today. I hope many judges will,” he said.

“Until now, no one could blame the judges for awarding high attorney fees, because, there has been no guidance from the legislature. Default judgments are especially difficult because there is no one that appears in court to argue with the outrageous fees that attorneys ask for. Without any guidance, many judges just awarded whatever attorneys asked for. But, now there is guidance,” says VanderSloot.

VanderSloot says the Idaho Patient Act could not have passed without support from the public. A year ago, it was not on anyone’s radar, he said, but now the law, which had bipartisan support, will become a reality.

“Make no mistake – the public is who got this passed. People spoke out against these egregious practices and they wrote their senators and their state representatives. Tens of thousands of letters were received by senators and representatives about this legislation. This was a bill for the people,” he said.

Little should have the bill in his office by the end of the week, and VanderSloot hopes it will be “signed with enthusiasm.”

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