Balance billing, sometimes called surprise billing, happens when a health care provider (a doctor, for example) bills a patient after the patient’s health insurance company has paid its share of the bill. The balance bill is for the difference between the provider’s charge and the price the insurance company set, after the patient has paid any copays, coinsurance, or deductibles. 

Balance billing can happen when a patient receives covered health care services from an out-of-network provider or an out-of-network facility (a hospital, for example).  In-network providers agree with an insurance company to accept the insurance payment in full, and don’t balance bill.  Out-of-network providers don’t have this same agreement with insurers. Some health plans, such as Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) or Point of Service (POS) plans, include some coverage for out-of-network care, but the provider may still balance bill the patient if state or federal protections don’t apply.  Other plans don’t include coverage for out-of-network services and the patient is responsible for all of the costs of out-of-network care.  Typically, patients don’t know the provider or facility is out-of-network until they receive the bill.

Medicare and Medicaid have their own protections against balance billing.