Georgia Legislature Plans to Bolster Consumer Protections Regarding Healthcare Collections, Garnishment

A number of bills aimed at protecting consumers in Georgia as well as an initiative aimed at how healthcare companies bill consumers that is expected to be proposed were discussed last week when a consumer protection group, Georgia Watch, hosted a legislative breakfast in Atlanta.

The proposed bills include reforming how companies can garnishee the wages of Georgians, as well as a measure that would enforce federal laws on companies that make small-dollar loans to military personnel.

Financial institutions, collection agencies, and other types of companies have stopped garnishing wages in Georgia, after a federal judge invalidated a previous law because consumers were not being provided with enough notice regarding certain types of income, such as Social Security benefits, that are exempt from garnishment.

But the largest topic of discussion was reserved for an expected-to-be-introduced piece of legislation that would bar healthcare companies from initiating any collection activities until after first learning how much is covered by the patient’s health insurance.

The process, called Balance Billing, occurs when a patient is billed for services by a hospital that are not covered by insurance. Oftentimes, specialists, such as a radiologist or anesthesiologist is not part of the network coverage, and the patient may not know that until a bill is received. Since medical debts are a primary cause of bankruptcy filings, according to the report, the state legislature is motivated to address this situation.

“When we finished and the smoke cleared, we were in debt,” said Sen. Ed Harbinson, D-Columbus, recalling his wife’s knee operation. “So, I’m highly motivated to support this bill.”


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