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California effort to stop surprise hospital bills stalls

Jiggy Athilingam poses for photos at her home in Richmond. Athilingam, who was hit from behind by a car while riding a bicycle in San Francisco five years ago, had two forms of health insurance and assumed it would pay for most of her bills. But because she was treated at a hospital that was outside of her health insurance company's network, she got hit with a surprise bill - a common story in the country's complex health care system.

SACRAMENTO — A California proposal aimed at limiting high medical bills from emergency room visits stalled Wednesday, with the author saying opposition from hospitals was insurmountable this year.

Democratic Assemblyman David Chiu said he'll continue working on the bill and try to bring it back next year. It's the latest attempt by a state Legislature or Congress to rein in exorbitant hospitals bills when patients need emergency care but have little say about what hospitals they are taken to.

Chiu's bill would have capped what emergency patients pay at their copays and deductibles, even if they got treatment at a hospital outside of their insurance network. It would also have capped how much hospitals could then seek from insurance companies.

That turned the bill into a battle between hospitals and insurance companies.

"This bill curtails a practice that generates billions of dollars of profits for hospitals, and lobbyists and CEOs for the most profitable hospitals in California have made it abundantly clear that they will protect those profits over patients," Chiu said in a statement. "Unfortunately, that level of moneyed opposition proved insurmountable at this time."

Jan Emerson-Shea of the California Hospitals Association did not immediately comment on Chiu's withdrawal of the bill or his comments about hospital opposition.

Carmela Coyle, the group's chief executive, previously said insurance companies, not hospitals, are the true monopoly. She said the proposal "puts money into the pockets of insurance companies and does not make care more affordable for consumers."

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