Bryan Cohen Jul. 26, 2013, 7:12pm

RALEIGH, N.C. (Legal Newsline) - North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper announced the passage of a bill Thursday by the General Assembly that would reform hospital debt collections, fight rising healthcare costs and make medical bills simpler.

House Bill 834 includes several ideas that Cooper shared with legislators in April. Some of the ideas include giving patients more time to request an itemized healthcare bill, requiring that healthcare bills be written in easy-to-understand language, mandating that healthcare facilities provide refunds for billing errors and overpayments within 45 days, prohibiting hospitals from charging patients for services that would have been covered by insurance if the hospital filed the paperwork on time, requiring that consumers be provided with accurate information about whether a healthcare provider is in the patient's insurance network and ideas to reform hospital collection practices.

"Every day my office hears from North Carolinians who are struggling with incomprehensible medical bills and unreasonable collection practices, and this bill will restore some fairness for those consumers," Cooper said. "No one state or law can solve all the health care challenges we face, but these are important steps in the right direction."

HB 834 would also give the public more information on hospital charity policies and medical costs. Consumers would have access to a website to look up the costs for common treatments and medical procedures for each state hospital. The hospitals would also be required to share their policies for providing financial assistance or charity to people not able to pay their bills.

"We recommend that consumers shop around for a good deal, but our health care system doesn't make that easy to do," Cooper said. "Giving consumers straightforward information on what medical services cost and what they owe will help them make better decisions about their health care."

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