SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A billing policy that has saddled insured patients with huge debt after being treated for emergency and trauma services at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital will be changed, city leaders said Friday.

Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Aaron Peskin on Friday called for a temporary halt to “balance billing” – surprise bills sent to a patient when their private insurer doesn’t cover the full cost of treatment.

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Most of the hospital’s patients are uninsured but the 6 percent with commercial insurance who seek emergency care at SF General are affected by the hospital’s policy against accepting private insurance.

“Although ‘balance billing’ affects a very small number of ZSFG patients, the stress and hardship they experience when it happens is very real,” Mayor Breed said.

The city’s Department of Public Health, which operates the hospital, will work with hospital officials to address the dilemma of those patients stuck in the middle of disputes between the hospital and their insurance provider, Breed said.

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The hospital will pursue agreements with private insurance companies and study regional hospital charges, comparing trauma centers, academic medical centers, San Francisco and Bay Area hospitals, according to the city’s announcement Friday.

In addition to halting balance billing for 90 days, immediate changes will include making financial assistance easier to get and assess a patient’s eligibility for assistance rather than waiting for them to apply, according to the city’s announcement.

Charity care and sliding scale policies will be adjusted to expand the number of people who are eligible.

“While hospital billing in the United States is very complicated, patients should not be caught in the middle of disputes between hospitals and insurance companies,” said Dr. Susan Ehrlich, the hospital’s chief executive officer.

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