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Surprise medical bills may be curbed if governor signs new law

Updated May 14, 2019 - 9:02 pm

CARSON CITY — A bill to end the surprise medical bills emergency room patients sometimes get from out-of-network providers passed the state Senate unanimously Tuesday and will head to the governor for signature after the Assembly agreed to minor amendments.

The vote on Assembly Bill 469 was one of several actions lawmakers took Tuesday to advance legislative priorities ahead of another upcoming deadline to pass bills. The Assembly also introduced legislation creating a Cannabis Compliance Board to oversee and regulate the state’s fast-growing marijuana industry.

And an Assembly committee voted out Assembly Bill 236, a bill overhauling the state’s criminal justice system aimed at reducing imprisonment for lesser crimes and stemming recidivism.

The committee-sponsored surprise-billing measure would prevent an out-of-network provider who treats an emergency patient from billing more than that patient’s co-payment or deductible. It sets up procedures for insurers and third-party providers to work out payments between them, not through the patient, and for transferring ER patients first treated in an out-of-network facility to one within their network when they are stable enough to be moved.

The bill “takes the patient out of the middle,” Sen. Julia Ratti, D-Sparks, said on the floor Tuesday. “If for some reason there’s an out-of-network charge, that charge will not be passed on to that patient, but will be negotiated between the hospital and the payers.”

Criminal justice reform

After months of meetings, substantial revisions and a somewhat awkward reintroduction last week, the hefty reform bill that seeks to overhaul Nevada’s criminal justice system passed out of committee Tuesday on a 10-5 party-line vote.

The bill aims to reduce Nevada’s prison population and recidivism rates, with possible savings of hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade. It is the outgrowth of a legislative report that recommended removing mandatory minimum sentences for certain lower-level crimes, giving judges more discretion in sentencing, and reclassifying certain categories of felonies, among other reforms.

Opposition, mostly from law enforcement agencies, centered on public safety concerns and the rights of crime victims.

The bill got its first hearing at the beginning of March and has been the subject of extensive debate among interested parties ever since. Its sponsor, Assemblyman Steve Yeager, D-Las Vegas, the Assembly Judiciary committee chairman, unveiled a reworked version last week but pulled it back from a committee vote for additional tweaks.

The changes managed to bring major law enforcement interests such as the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department to neutral on the bill from earlier opposition. Still, the five committee Republicans voted against moving it out of committee, some citing concerns with specific provisions, others indicating that the omnibus bill tried to do too much.

Public defenders and reform advocates applauded its committee passage but were disappointed with the party-line vote.

“I think at this point, if you’re not in a position of support, then what you’re really saying is you want to maintain the status quo, that you’re not concerned about our prison population exploding,” said the ACLU’s Holly Welborn.

Yeager, after the vote, said he wasn’t comfortable with every amendment to the bill but thought it would accomplish its main goals.

“Maybe that’s an indication that it’s a good bill when both sides are not entirely pleased,” he said.

Cannabis Control Board

Assembly Bill 533, introduced Tuesday, creates the state Cannabis Control Board that Gov. Steve Sisolak pledged to establish in his State of the State address in January. The panel will comprise five members appointed by the governor, patterned on the Gaming Control Board that oversees and regulates the state gaming industry.

The bill, 256 pages long in its draft form, also makes a number of changes to existing marijuana regulations to reorganize them under the new compliance structure. It was referred to the Assembly Judiciary Committee for hearings.

Contact Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-0661. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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