Surprise medical bills occur when a patient unexpectedly or involuntarily receives care from an out-of-network provider and is billed for the amount not covered by insurance. Past studies were unable to observe whether bills for such care were sent to patients and, if so, how much patients paid directly to out-of-network providers. We used data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey to measure how much privately insured emergency patients paid when they likely received a surprise bill and how much physicians received in these situations. Physicians collected 65 percent of the charged amount for likely surprise bills compared with 52 percent for other cases. Patients who likely received a surprise out-of-network bill for emergency care paid physicians more than ten times as much as other emergency patients paid, on average.
The full study is available in Health Affairs.