Surprise Medical Bills

Your Rights and Protections

When you get emergency care or are treated by an out-of-network provider at an in-network hospital or ambulatory surgical center, you are protected from surprise billing or balance billing. In these cases, you shouldn’t be charged more than your plan’s copayments, coinsurance and/or deductible.

What Is “Balance Billing” (Sometimes Called “Surprise Billing”)? 

When you see a doctor or other health care provider, you may owe certain out-of-pocket costs, like a copayment, coinsurance, or a deductible. You may have additional costs or have to pay the entire bill if you see a provider or visit a health care facility that isn’t in your health plan’s network.  

“Out-of-network” means providers and facilities that haven’t signed a contract with your health plan to provide services. Out-of-network providers may be allowed to bill you for the difference between what your plan pays and the full amount charged for a service. This is called “balance billing.” This amount is likely more than in-network costs for the same service and might not count toward your plan’s deductible or annual out-of-pocket limit.

“Surprise billing” is an unexpected balance bill. This can happen when you can’t control who is involved in your care—like when you have an emergency or when you schedule a visit at an in-network facility but are unexpectedly treated by an out-of-network provider. Surprise medical bills could cost thousands of dollars depending on the procedure or service. 

You’re protected from balance billing for:

Emergency services 

If you have an emergency medical condition and get emergency services from an out-of-network provider or facility, the most they can bill you is your plan’s in-network cost-sharing amount (such as copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles). You can’t be balance billed for these emergency services. This includes services you may get after you’re in stable condition, unless you give written consent and give up your protections not to be balance billed for these post-stabilization services.    

Certain services at an in-network hospital or ambulatory surgical center 

When you get services from an in-network hospital or ambulatory surgical center, certain providers there may be out-of-network. In these cases, the most those providers can bill you is your plan’s in-network cost-sharing amount. This applies to emergency medicine, anesthesia, pathology, radiology, laboratory, neonatology, assistant surgeon, hospitalist, or intensivist services. These providers can’t balance bill you and may not ask you to give up your protections not to be balance billed.                               

If you get other types of services at these in-network facilities, out-of-network providers can’t balance bill you, unless you give written consent and give up your protections. 

You’re never required to give up your protections from balance billing. You also aren’t required to get out-of-network care. You can choose a provider or facility in your plan’s network. . 

Surprise Billing in Illinois

Illinois state law (Illinois Public Act 096-1523) protects you from “balance” or “surprise” bills when you receive care at an in-network facility or ambulatory surgery center from out-of-network providers who provide radiology, anesthesiology, pathology, neonatology, or emergency physician services at that in-network facility.

In these situations, you cannot be charged greater out-of-pocket expenses than you would have been for covered, in-network physician or provider services. The out-of-network provider should not send you a bill.

Exceptions to Illinois Surprise Billing Protections

You could, however, still be required to pay an out-of-network bill in certain situations. Illinois’ surprise billing protections only apply to insurance plans regulated by the state of Illinois. Therefore, if your insurance plan is not regulated by the state, you may still be billed for these out-of-network charges. Further, these protections only apply to certain out-of-network providers who are based in an in-network facility; if the facility where you receive these services itself is out-of-network, you can also receive an out-of-network bill. Similarly, these protections do not apply if you purposely choose a provider not within your insurance network.

When Balance Billing Isn’t Allowed, You Also Have These Following Protections:

You are only responsible for paying your share of the cost (like the copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles that you would pay if the provider or facility was in-network). Your health plan will pay out-of-network providers and facilities directly.

Generally, your health plan must:

  • Cover emergency services without requiring you to get approval for services in advance (also known as “prior authorization”).
  • Cover emergency services by out-of-network providers.
  • Base what you owe the provider or facility (cost-sharing) on what it would pay an in-network provider or facility and show that amount in your explanation of benefits.
  • Count any amount you pay for emergency services or out-of-network services toward your in-network deductible and out-of-pocket limit.

If you think you’ve been wrongly billed, contact the Illinois Department of Insurance:

The Illinois Department of Insurance
320 West Washington Street Springfield, IL 62767
tel: 1-877-527-9431

The federal phone number for information and complaints is: tel: 1-800-985-3059.

Learn more about your rights under federal law.

Last Updated: Oct. 18, 2023