RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Gov. Pat McCrory signed legislation into law Wednesday that he said will help North Carolina consumers make better health care decisions and aid his administration in running state government more efficiently.
The bill, one of more than 30 left on his desk this week after lawmakers adjourned late last month, addresses both hospital billing procedures and changes to state employee personnel rules.
The health care billing standards, which had been in a stand-alone measure until it was attached to the state personnel bill late in the session, requires hospitals statewide to report the amount charged for the 100 most frequent reasons for admissions.
Hospital and same-day surgery centers also must provide to state regulators similar information on 40 common surgical and imaging procedures, including the average negotiated cost for uninsured patients, Medicaid or Medicare reimbursement rate and what leading health insurers pay. The Department of Health and Human Services will put the data on its web site.
"For too long, North Carolina patients have been in the dark on what they can expect to pay for common medical procedures when they are admitted to a hospital," McCrory said in a statement. "This new law gives patients and their doctors pricing information so they can make an informed financial decision with regard to their health care."
Hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers also would be unable in some situations to place a lien on someone's house to collect unpaid bills, and certain public hospitals would be barred from garnishing wages for similar debt. The measure requires medical facilities to provide when asked itemized billing statements in easy-to-understand language.
These changes occurred after a series of articles by The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer of Raleigh highlighting in part the wide disparity in hospital charges for procedures.
The measure also increases from 1,000 to 1,500 the number of state government positions exempt from those rules so that the governor's administration can hire and fire more quickly in certain positions. It also expands which agencies can hire exempt employees.
Just last year, the legislature had more than doubled the previous cap on the number of exempt workers, who generally are policy makers. McCrory's office said the extra exempt positions will provide flexibility and accountability to Cabinet secretaries to carry out changes.
McCrory also sought successfully provisions that attempt to reduce the length of time for the employee grievance process, which he said has averaged 450 days. Changes to the State Personnel Act — now named the North Carolina Human Resources Act under the law — were one of the Republican governor's priorities this year.
""This is a good first step in initiating performance management and employee evaluation for all state workers," he said.
McCrory still must act on 34 bills by Sunday night — either by signing or vetoing them — or they'll become law without his signature.