Editor's note: Be sure to read the other articles in this series:

One of the many components of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 is the "No Surprises Act." This section of the new law does not directly address COVID-19 economic relief, but instead gets at a longstanding health policy concern, the issue of "surprise" balance billing. It bans these "surprise" bills in certain circumstances and establishes a federal procedure to handle many types of disputed out-of-network medical claims.

Surprise billing occurs when individuals get medical care outside of their plan's network, and their providers and health plans cannot agree on a payment amount acceptable to the provider. In those cases, patients often get a "balance" bill for amounts charged by the provider but not paid by their health plan. While no one likes medical bills, they are particularly shocking and unwelcome when patients do not get to pick their provider, such as in a medical emergency. It's also very frustrating when a patient carefully selects an "in-network" health care facility but later receives a bill from a provider who, unbeknownst to the patient, does not have a contractual agreement with their health plan.

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