When Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, this omnibus appropriations bill included the No Surprises Act (NSA). In 2022, much of the NSA focused on implementing consumer protections surrounding surprise medical bills after receiving emergency medical care. This was a big win for patients who were inadvertently receiving out-of-network care and billed non-negotiated rates in emergency situations where in-network providers and hospitals were leveraging out-of-network services and balance billing patients. The NSA specifically targeted air ambulance services and identified certain non-emergency services where notice and consent requirements must be satisfied for balance billing. 

Two components of the NSA received much less fanfare and were not implemented on the original timeline. This includes: (1) requirements for providers to make good faith estimates (GFE) of charges for services within three hours (if immediate) or three days (if scheduled) and (2) the requirements around Advanced Explanation of Benefits (AEOB).  The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) delayed enforcement of these requirements for insured individuals, originally slated for plan years beginning on or after January 2022, given the lack of infrastructure for providers to transmit the necessary data on the GFE, which also directly impacted the ability to supply AEOBs.    

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and HHS asked for public comment related to the GFE and AEOB requirements. Comments were due November 15, 2022, and we expect clarifications or revisions to the regulations based on the feedback received. Implementation of the GFE and AEOB will demonstrate the fragmented health care structure that currently exists and that health plans, including self-insured plans, need to carefully monitor the impact. 

GFE will impact every provider. Small, independent practices will likely experience the biggest disruption, which may translate into further consolidation. In addition, most services require coordination between multiple providers and ambiguity exists around ownership of those GFEs. 

Although GFEs are a provider responsibility, health plans – including self-insured employer plans – are not immune to these pending guidelines. Compliant AEOBs must be supplied by health plans and one component is information related to the GFE. Therefore, information not only needs to be shared from providers to patients, but also from providers to health plans, so that it can be included in the AEOB. 

In short, the No Surprises Act will likely be full of surprises in 2023 as CMS and HHS begin to address the following questions:

  • How will data be exchanged (i.e., FHIR-based API or other means)?
  • Is electronic notification sufficient, or will hard copy documents be required?
  • How much time will be given for compliance (i.e., system updates, IT development, testing, printing, production, etc.)?
  • Will any self-service options exist

As additional guidance is released and these questions are answered, we look forward to sharing our thoughts and recommendations in accordance. In the meantime, please reach out with questions related to the No Surprises Act, AEOB Compliance, or anything related.