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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

34 mins ago - Health

Standardized testing becomes another pandemic victim

Photo: Edmund D. Fountain for The Washington Post via Getty

National standardized reading and math tests have been pushed from next year to 2022, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) announced Wednesday.

Why it matters: There’s mounting national evidence that students are suffering major setbacks this year, with a surge in the number of failing grades.

58 mins ago - World

European countries extend lockdowns

A medical worker takes a COVID-19 throat swab sample at the Berlin-Brandenburg Airport. Photo by Maja Hitij via Getty

Recent spikes in COVID-19 infections across Europe have led authorities to extend restrictions ahead of the holiday season.

Why it matters: "Relaxing too fast and too much is a risk for a third wave after Christmas," said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

2 hours ago - Health

Africa CDC: Vaccines likely won't be available until Q2 of 2021

Africa CDC director Dr. John Nkengasong. Photo: Mohammed Abdu Abdulbaqi/Anadolu Agency via Getty

Africa may have to wait until the second quarter of 2021 to roll out vaccines, Africa CDC director John Nkengasong said Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

Why it matters: “I have seen how Africa is neglected when drugs are available,” Nkengasong said.