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Texas has a way to help patients appeal their surprise medical bills. It's not open to everyone. But it's still overwhelmed and unable to keep up with demand.

How it works: Texas operates a mediation program for patients hit with a surprise out-of-network bill, and it has expanded access to the program twice over the past 4 years.

  • The Texas Tribune lays out the details: Once patients file their bill with the state board, any bill collections are paused and insurers and providers have 30 days to work something out.
  • Most cases are resolved there. The others are referred to a formal mediation process.

By the numbers: Demand for the program skyrocketed last year, per the Tribune.

  • Texas received just 43 mediation requests in 2013. Last year, it received more than 4,500 complaints, totaling almost $9 million in hospital charges. Officials are expecting more than 8,000 new requests this year.

That's more than the commission can keep up with, and it's been trying to grow while still managing a workload that's very time sensitive for patients.

  • "It's somewhat like trying to rebuild the firehouse while you're answering calls to put out fires," Texas insurance commissioner Kent Sullivan said.

Go deeper: Why ending surprise medical bills is harder than it looks

Go deeper

28 mins ago - World

U.S. strikes Iran-backed militia structures in Syria

President Biden at the Pentagon on Feb. 10. Photo: Alex Brandon - Pool/Getty Images

The United States on Thursday carried out an airstrike against facilities in Syria linked to an Iran-backed militia group, the Pentagon announced.

The state of play: The strike, approved by President Biden, comes "in response to recent attacks against American and Coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats to those personnel," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.

Senate parliamentarian rules $15 minimum wage cannot be included in relief package

Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

The Senate parliamentarian ruled Thursday that the provision to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour cannot be included in the broader $1.9 trillion COVID relief package.

Why it matters: It's now very likely that any increase in the minimum wage will need bipartisan support, as the provision cannot be passed with the simple Senate majority that Democrats are aiming to use for President Biden's rescue bill.

Dave Lawler, author of World
48 mins ago - World

Biden's big Saudi reset

Mohammed bin Salman. Photo: Ryad Kramdi/AFP via Getty

President Biden spoke with Saudi Arabia's King Salman this evening ahead of the release of a CIA report expected to implicate the king's son, and the kingdom's de facto ruler, in the murder of a U.S.-based journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

Why it matters: In one month, Biden has ended support for the Saudi war effort in Yemen, frozen a large arms deal and snubbed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) by declining to speak with him directly.