In the Press

Houston Chronicle: Texans off the hook for ‘surprise’ medical bills [Editorial]

August 6, 2019

Houston Chronicle

By The Editorial Board

It sounded like a big victory for Texas patients: A new state law protects them from sticker shock if they receive an unexpected medical bill from a doctor who wasn’t in their insurance provider network.

But the victory wasn’t as big as it seemed.

The law signed last month by Gov. Greg Abbott applies only to Texans who buy insurance policies regulated by the Texas Department of Insurance. Left out is the 40 percent of the Texas insurance market, including employee benefits programs self-funded by large companies, regulated by the federal government through the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

Texas’ new law takes effect in September. It was authored by state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, who has been trying to protect patients from surprise medical bills for 10 years. It was Hancock’s 2009 bill that created a mediation process to settle billing disputes between medical providers and patients whose insurance companies wouldn’t cover out-of-network charges.

Mediation since 2015 has saved Texans more than $42 million in health care costs not paid by their insurers, including $8 million last year alone, according to the insurance department. But despite outreach efforts, many patients never knew they were eligible for mediation. They instead scraped up the cash to pay any balance owed after their insurance company kicked in its obligated share.

That shouldn’t happen as often under the new law, which takes consumers out of the equation by replacing mediation between the patient and insurer with what Hancock calls “baseball arbitration,” where an intermediary with medical billing expertise settles the dispute.

“It forces both parties to be more realistic in setting actual charges and payments,” Hancock told the editorial board. “The settlement is based on whoever comes closest to what the arbitrator believes is the fair market price. Whoever is farther away from that number is going to lose.”

A companion bill that would have made arbitration available to self-funded insurance plans was abandoned during the last legislative session. Hancock explained that participation would have been voluntary since those plans follow ERISA rules instead of TDI regulations. “Hopefully, we will see Congress address the issue,” he said.

That may not happen. Hospitals are opposing a bill in the U.S. Senate they say amounts to price-setting. The legislation would require insurance companies to pay out-of-network doctors at a rate tied to in-network fees for a specific treatment or procedure. Doctors, hospitals, and other medical facilities would be banned from “balance billing” patients an amount above what they are paid by the insurer.

“In short, the federal government would bind doctors and hospitals to the terms of contracts they haven’t signed,” said Heritage Foundation fellow Doug Badger in a commentary for the Daily Signal. Badger said physicians have a right to set fees for their services. He said the better solution is to make sure patients know beforehand that they are seeing someone out-of-network.

That may sound reasonable, but not when the patient is in an emergency room or similar situation and has little option but to receive treatment then and there.

The success of Hancock’s legislation despite initial opposition by the Texas Medical Association is reason to believe Congress can find a similar solution for patients with federally regulated insurance policies. In fact, TMA President David Fleeger said the physicians group would help write the rules TDI will use for arbitration under the new statute.

It’s good to see Texas join the 25 states that already have laws protecting patients from unexpected medical bills. Now it’s time for Congress to extend that protection to more Americans. Even President Trump says he wants that to happen. He agrees that people shouldn’t open their mail to find a doctor’s bill jarring enough to make them sick.

The Dallas Morning News: We recommend Kelly Hancock for Texas Senate District 9

October 13, 2018

Dallas Morning News Editorial

It takes more than passion to be effective in the Texas Legislature. It also takes experience, a grasp of a broad range of issues, and the ability to anticipate what’s next. In the Texas Senate race to represent northeast Tarrant County, Democrat Gwenn Burud brings a deep passion for education, but incumbent Republican Kelly Hancock offers experience.

For Texas Senate District 9, we recommend Hancock, 54, based on his proven effectiveness. Hancock, who lives in North Richland Hills, is chair of four committees, including the key Senate Business and Commerce committee. He has also been in the fray on a number of important issue, such as transportation, school funding and safety.

Burud, 50, is a deaf education teacher and says her top concern is school funding in Texas and her No. 2 priority is healthcare. But she offers few specific solutions that the Legislature could enact next year. We would be more enthusiastic about Burud, who lives in Colleyville, cutting her teeth in a lower office, where she could serve Texas with her intelligence and enthusiasm.

Hancock does offer specifics. On school funding, he aims to reduce the property tax burden while prioritizing school funding. He says schools don’t necessarily need more money, but to improve student outcomes they should prioritize teacher pay. “I was on the school board for 13 years, and we always seemed to make it work under the existing funding system,” he said.

He also offered an intriguing idea: Collect the property taxes paid by power generation plants into a state school fund, rather than local school funds. Power plants are generally in rural areas where school funding needs are relatively small, and they pay big property taxes out of revenue that comes from all Texans who use electricity.

Hancock’s response to school safety concerns is to arm administrators, and he helped write the school marshal bill that passed the Legislature in 2013. He is also a member of the Senate Transportation Committee, where he has pushed for measures to relieve traffic congestion in North Texas.

Where we differ from Hancock is in his support of the bathroom bill last session and the Texas voter ID law.

But overall, Hancock is the better choice.

Ready to vote?

Part of a series of Dallas Morning News recommendations in the Nov. 6 general election.

Voter Guide: Compare candidates’ answers to questionnaires tailored to their contest. https://voterguide.dallasnews.com

Recommendations: List of our recommendations to date. https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/we-recommend/2018/09/07/dallas-morning-news-editorial-board-recommendations-nov-6-2018-general-election

Early voting starts: Oct. 22

Election Day: Nov. 6

For more information:

Collin County 1-800-687-8546 co.collin.tx.us/elections

Dallas County 214-819-6300 dallascountyvotes.org

Denton County 940-349-3200 votedenton.com

Ellis County 972-825-5195 co.ellis.tx.us/312/Elections

Kaufman County 972-932-0298 kaufmancounty.org/elections

Rockwall County 972-204-6200 rockwallvotes.com

Tarrant County 817-831-8683 access.tarrantcounty.com/en/elections.html

For more help, including how to check your registration status, contact the Texas secretary of state at 800-252-8683 or visit votetexas.gov.

Texas eyes added protections for your digital data

August 28, 2018

KVEO

By Wes Rapaport

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — When you pass away, someone takes control of your digital data. You have partial control over who ends up with the keys to your digital castle. Texas lawmakers studied data access for people who have died, reviewing digital privacy laws on the books and exploring additional options.

“Our lives are getting more digitalized, not less so,” estate and business succession attorney Harry Wolff told a panel of Texas state senators on Tuesday.

Ben Bentzin is a marketing lecturer at the McCombs Business School at the University of Texas at Austin. He has designated each of his digital accounts to one of his children for when he passes away. He wants to make sure his affairs are in order.

“Upon my death, one of my children will receive a notification that they have been designated as my successor, and they will be able to take over at that point,” Bentzin said.

“All the stuff that we used to put on paper and store in boxes and filing cabinets is the stuff we put on digital assets now, and your Google account, your Facebook account, your Microsoft account stores lots of important information that your family will need on your passing,” Bentzin said.

Bentzin talks about preserving digital assets with his students.

“If you don’t take care of those assets and they are not going to be available to your family members, and you don’t want them to just go away,” Bentzin said.

At Tuesday’s hearing, state senator Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, recognized that digital privacy needs to be explored further in Texas, calling it “Something we have to learn.”

Last year, lawmakers passed SB 1193, which gives trustees power to manage digital assets just as they would physical ones. It also covers liability for custodians of electronic accounts who make decisions in an effort to honor the wishes of the original user’s privacy.

“There’s so much data and no one really knows… what to do with it at this point,” social media agency executive Kristen Sussman said. She is CEO of Austin-based Social Distillery. Sussman said digital data access has become a global issue that needs regulation.

“There’s no walls on the internet that separate us,” Sussman mentioned.

“We don’t really know if it should be federally mandated, whether it should be at the state level, whether it should be pushed for by Facebook by Google or the companies that own all of this data,” Sussman explained.

Lawmakers also addressed social media privacy in the workforce and for students.

“It’s a huge gray area of the law,” Bentzin stated. “In surveys, over half of employers say they consider social media in the hiring process, and yet it’s a mine field for employers also because in looking at social media they may wind up being exposed to content that may be illegal for them to consider in the hiring process.”

“You have in your digital assets an opportunity to manage who has access while you are living and when you die, and it’s important that you set that matches your wishes,” Bentzin said.

Experts suggested searching within each digital account for information on how to turn it over in case of death. Those who are not as tech-savvy could hire a probate lawyer to assist.

State Senator Kelly Hancock to Seek District 9 Reelection

September 21, 2017

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Sept. 21, 2017

CONTACT: CAITY JACKSON
(972) 762-8046

Hancock recognized by Gov. Greg Abbott for conservative leadership in Texas Senate

NORTH RICHLAND HILLS, TX – Sen. Kelly Hancock today announced plans to seek reelection to the Texas Senate. Hancock represents Senate District 9, which includes portions of Tarrant and Dallas Counties.

“Each day I have the opportunity to represent our community in the Texas Senate is a privilege,” said Sen. Hancock. “I look forward to spending the next year talking with District 9 voters about what we’ve accomplished so far and the important work left to do. I hope to earn their continued trust and support.”

Hancock is a Fort Worth native, local businessman, and dedicated family man first elected to the Texas Legislature in 2007. He served three terms in the Texas House of Representatives before joining the Texas Senate in 2013.

The Senator has established a reputation as a legislative leader who can be counted on to support a balanced state budget, lower taxes, and greater individual freedoms, receiving formal recognition as a “Courageous Conservative,” a “Champion of Small Business” and a “Taxpayer Hero.”

“Kelly Hancock is a conservative leader Texans can depend on to fight for limited government, lower taxes, and family values,” said Gov. Greg Abbott. “It’s important that we keep genuine public servants like him in the Texas Legislature.”

In addition to his responsibilities as Chairman of the Senate’s Business and Commerce Committee, Hancock is a sitting member of the Natural Resources and Economic Development, Transportation, and budget-writing Finance committees.

Kelly and his wife, Robin, are both graduates of Richland High School and Baylor University. They have been happily married for 30 years and have three adult children: Chloe (Greg), Skylar (Aaron), and Harrison.

For more information or to contact Texans for Kelly Hancock, visit kellyhancock.com.

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Lawsuit abuse is costing consumers, and new ‘storm chasers’ are to blame

March 3, 2017

Star-Telegram

By Kelly Hancock
Special to the Star-Telegram

Texas homeowners pay some of the highest property insurance premiums in the country.

With our wide-ranging severe weather, these rates are an unfortunate fact of living in a state otherwise known for its impressive economy and reasonable cost of living.

The Texas Legislature can’t control the weather, but we can crack down on lawsuit abuse that’s pushing insurance costs even higher than they need to be.

The public face of this problem is a practice called “storm chasing.”

These storm chasers are lawyers, roofers and public adjusters who work together to recruit homeowners in a neighborhood affected by severe weather, convincing them to file unnecessary lawsuits instead of moving through their insurers’ claims process.

Of course, they fail to mention that it takes on average eight times as long for a claim to be settled when a lawsuit is involved, drastically delaying repairs.

This kind of storm chasing started in the Rio Grande Valley, and we’ve seen it spread statewide to West Texas, San Antonio, Houston and right here in North Texas.

In fact, you may have seen recent news reports about a roofer who solicited cases for a lawyer and then ran off with people’s insurance money in Arlington, Dallas and Fort Worth.

The real root of the storm chasing problem is lawsuit abuse, and the Texas Department of Insurance recently released a report confirming just how severe that abuse is.

The report shows the lawsuit-to-claim ratio increased a staggering 15 times immediately after storm-chasing lawyers created this litigation explosion in 2011. That’s a 1,400 percent increase!

As a result, at least a dozen companies have raised rates for homeowner’s insurance and at least seven companies — that we know of — limited or stopped writing policies in Texas altogether.

After all, trial lawyers who know how to play the storm-chasing game in Texas aren’t concerned about the long-term effects of making a quick buck.

We saw this all too well with asbestos litigation and then the black mold crisis.

Insurance companies, like any other business, pass the costs of doing business on to their customers, and today insurance companies don’t even cover black mold because of litigation abuse.

We simply can’t let that happen with other property insurance coverage. We know from experience the only way to stop it is with principled legislation.

That’s why we filed Senate Bill 10 and why both Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have stated their strong support for passing hailstorm lawsuit abuse reform this session.

Texas property owners deserve to be protected from all bad actors involved in the process.

Sometimes insurance companies don’t pay on time or in full, and SB 10 maintains some of the strongest consumer protections in the nation against insurance companies that act in bad faith.

As both a homeowner and a business owner, I know how crucial those protections are.

But there are other bad actors involved in this process, and it’s time to provide protection against the storm chasers, too.

That’s exactly what SB 10 does.

State Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, is chairman of the Texas Senate’s Business & Commerce Committee. His committee is expected to hold hearings on SB 10.

A $3,000 bill for bronchitis is possible if you walk into the wrong facility

February 27, 2017

Dallas Morning News Editorial

Your child has bronchitis and you can’t get in touch with your family doctor. So you take your child to what you think is an urgent care center for a quick diagnosis and hopefully a prescription to ease the pain.

Prepare for sticker shock if that center turns out to be a standalone emergency care room. You might be looking at a $3,000 bill for out-of-network emergency room services that otherwise might cost less than $200 at an urgent care center. That’s right, bills for common problems like coughs, sore throats and fevers can cost 10 times more than you would expect. And you’re on the hook for it when your insurance company balks at paying the outlandish bill.

Nationally, one in five emergency room visits result in surprise billings. The problem is especially acute in Texas.

Consumers shouldn’t be stunned with predatory charges when they make a health care choice. If you make a mistake and walk into a high-priced restaurant, you can look at the prices and decide to go elsewhere. But a patient has no idea how much any emergency procedure will cost until after the fact, and that makes them a ripe target for billing abuses.

We see promise in Senate Bill 507, which would give Texans recourse when they receive unexpected medical bills. The bill, authored by state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, would expand the Texas Department of Insurance’s mediation system to include all types of out-of-network providers treating patients at in-network hospitals and other facilities — including freestanding emergency departments. The bill, which has support from consumer groups, health plans and business associations, also would allow mediation for emergency care balance bills over $500 at any healthcare facility, whether in or out of network.

Since 2009, the number of freestanding emergency rooms in Texas has grown from zero to more than 200. Texas freestanding emergency rooms now account for half of the freestanding emergency rooms in the United States.

And consider this: Nearly 70 percent of all out-of-network emergency facility claims in Texas now come from freestanding ERs. That’s because too often consumers don’t realize the nature of the facility they’re walking into, that stand-alone ER facilities are outside most insurance networks.

Some freestanding emergency rooms even tell patients that their insurance will cover the procedure when they know that the facility or the doctor are not in the health plan network. Such misleading behavior is unconscionable. Sen. Hancock’s bill would give consumers a way to fight back.

There is no excuse to leave patients caught in the middle between insurers seeking to hold down costs and freestanding ER that seek payment for specialized care. Hancock’s bill is a good way to protect consumers from budget-crippling surprises. Lawmakers should give it a fair hearing.

How to fix balance billing abuses

Expand surprise billing protections to freestanding emergency rooms.

Require freestanding emergency rooms to better disclose costs. This is especially important because most such costs aren’t in typical healthcare insurance networks.

What you can do

Contact your legislator to register your support for SB 507, which would protect patients at freestanding emergency care centers from surprise and costly balance bills. To find out who represents you and how to contact them, go to www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx and type in your address.

Email forms are available on each lawmaker’s website. Find them at www.house.state.tx.us/members and www.senate.state.tx.us/directory.php.

Fort Worth State Senator Takes On Surprise Medical Billing

January 19, 2017

D Magazine

By Matt Goodman

If you’ve ever been hit with a so-called balance bill, you know how frustrating—and how helpless—it can feel.

Figuring out what hospital your insurance company will actually pay for is tough enough. But determining ahead of time which of the physicians that practice at said hospital are in-network with your carrier is almost cruel. This is how balance billing happens—those surprise medical bills show up separate from your insurance statement after receiving care in a hospital or a surgery center and stick you with the difference.

State Sen. Kelly Hancock, a Republican from Fort Worth, has filed a bill that gives more power to the consumer when these occur. D CEO’s Olivia Nguyen has more details over on our healthcare site, but the gist is this: The Texas Department of Insurance reports that complaints over balance billing has risen more than 1,000 percent in the state since 2012. Back then, the TDI logged a measly 112 complaints. In 2015, that number ascended to 1,334. Part of that came out of a law in the last session that gave patients the power of mediation if they disputed any charge greater than $500.

Hancock’s new bill opens that up to all out-of-network charges coming from hospitals that, for all intents and purposes, should’ve been part of a carrier’s network. All emergency facilities—like the freestanding ERs that now dot so many of our more affluent corners—would face mediation over the billing, and insurers would be required to boost disclosure requirements to their plan holders.

The goal of SB 507, clearly, is to empower the patient with transparency. We’ll see if it sticks.

Statement on Planned Parenthood Practices

July 15, 2015

AUSTIN – The Texas Senate Republican Caucus today issued the following statement regarding the release of a video which shows Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical research, discussing the harvesting and sale of fetal organs and extremities.

“Human life is sacred. We are appalled and deeply saddened by the contents of the undercover video released this week by the Center for Medical Progress.

This video reminds us that the practice of abortion is itself horrific and inhumane. The subsequent harvesting and sale of aborted babies’ intact organs and extremities in the name of science is deplorable.

The footage reaffirms that Planned Parenthood’s activities are ethically indefensible and should receive no support from this legislative body.

In 2011, the Texas Legislature ended Planned Parenthood’s status as a provider in the state-funded Women’s Health Program. Additionally, the 2016-17 state budget further restricts all abortion providers from participating in the Breast and Cervical Cancer Services Program.

We join with the vast majority of Texans in condemning the practices revealed in this video, and we lend our full support to the investigative efforts of Governor Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Patrick, and Attorney General Paxton. We must hold Planned Parenthood accountable in Texas.”

For more information about the Texas Senate Republican Caucus, visit texassenate.gop.

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Sen. Hancock served as Chairman of the Texas Senate Republican Caucus for the 84th Legislature.

Statement on Supreme Court Marriage Decision

June 26, 2015

AUSTIN – The Texas Senate Republican Caucus today issued the following statement regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s unsound ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.

“The Constitution of the State of Texas preserves the definition of marriage in our great state as a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.

This definition directly expresses the sovereign will of the people of Texas, who overwhelmingly ratified its text when exercising the right to vote on this sacred issue.

The Texas Senate reaffirmed this definition during the 84th Legislative Session by passing Senate Resolution 1028. This resolution includes a pledge to uphold and defend the Constitution of our state and the principles that are so dearly held by Texans far and wide.

Today’s Supreme Court ruling is an affront to the Texas Constitution, the United States Constitution, the founding principles of our nation, and the democratic voting process.

As the dissenting Justices acknowledged, “The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment.” They continued, “It seizes for itself a question the Constitution leaves to the people, at a time when the people are engaged in a vibrant debate on that question.”

This extreme judicial overreach from our nation’s highest court is intolerable. The Texas Senate Republican Caucus will support the Texas Attorney General in any legal action he may take to defend the religious liberty of Texans in the wake of this troubling decision.”

For more information about the Texas Senate Republican Caucus, visit texassenate.gop.

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Sen. Hancock served as Chairman of the Texas Senate Republican Caucus for the 84th Legislature.

84th Legislative Session a Success for Texas Conservatives

June 1, 2015

Texas Senate Republican Caucus passes key legislation

AUSTIN – Today, the Texas Senate Republican Caucus marked the conclusion of the 84th Legislative Session.

“I can confidently report that this has been a solid, conservative session,” said Caucus Chairman Kelly Hancock (District 9 – North Richland Hills). “We addressed critical issues like border security and transportation funding while still finding $3.8 billion in tax relief for Texas families and businesses. I would call that a big win for all Texans.”

Major legislation passed during the 84th Legislative Session includes:

  • Tax ReliefSB 1 reduces property taxes by increasing the Homestead Exemption to $25,000. HB 32 provides a permanent, across-the-board 25% franchise tax cut for Texas businesses.
  • TransportationSJR 5 allows Texas voters to consider a constitutional amendment that dedicates a portion of the motor vehicle sales tax to road funding and addresses critical infrastructure needs.
  • 2nd AmendmentSB 11 allows licensed and trained students, faculty, and staff, ages 21 and older, to carry firearms on public college and university campuses. HB 910 allows licensed and trained firearm owners to openly display and carry a holstered handgun.
  • Veterans AffairsSB 55 creates a grant program to support community mental health programs for veterans and their families. HB 115 ensures victims of the 2009 Fort Hood shooting will be awarded the Texas Purple Heart Medal.
  • Religious Freedom – SB 2065 protects a pastor’s right to decline to perform same-sex marriages.
  • Border SecurityHB 11 is an extensive border security bill that will increase manpower, ramp up training, and crack down on crime. Additionally, the 2016-17 Texas budget doubled border security funding.
  • Budget HB 1 is a fiscally responsible budget that meets our state’s growing needs while remaining well under the constitutional spending cap.

For more information about the Texas Senate Republican Caucus, visit texassenate.gop.

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Sen. Hancock serves as Chairman of the Texas Senate Republican Caucus for the 84th Legislature.


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