Colorado Senate Considers Plain Language Bill

Hospitals would be required to cut jargon from patient billing

Colorado State Capitol Denver

Sen. Rhonda Fields on March 2 introduced a bill that would require hospitals to write patients’ bills in plain language. Senate Bill 188 was assigned to the Health and Human Services Committee and addresses the dense language often present in medical bills that might confuse patients and insurance providers. 

The bill would require hospitals to provide patients an itemized receipt within 30 days of discharge “provided in understandable language, without using procedure codes or drug codes exclusively and with a breakdown of the charges for which payment is expected.” 

The bill adopts some guidance from the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, which specifies that financial assistance policies must be written in plain language. While proponents agree that accessibility should be a priority in healthcare, opposition to the bill might point out that, depending on the hospital, bills are the way they are for various reasons, such as allowing them to more easily track which drugs are being used and why. 

State lawmakers are also working to reduce overbilling errors and dramatic markups in the medical field. 

Gov. Jared Polis has advocated for increasing hospital transparency after a state report released earlier this year showed some hospitals in the state had been charging a significant markup for services and drugs. According to the report, Colorado hospitals’ pricing rose 71.3% between 2009 and 2018, and one in three Coloradans can’t afford their medications. 

The legislation parallels ongoing efforts to introduce plain language to code announcements at more than 50 hospitals across the U.S.

— Jess Brovsky-Eaker

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