AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Medical Board is no longer working on a proposed rule criticized by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and advocacy groups as weakening a new law meant to protect patients from surprise medical bills. 

Senate Bill 1264, signed into law this year, aims to prevent patients with state-regulated health plans from getting surprise medical bills. Included in the bill is a narrow carve-out for patients who specifically choose to go with an out-of-network provider. They would need to complete a written disclosure outlining that they understood the physician or provider doesn’t have a contract with their health benefit plan and projected amounts they’d be responsible for paying. 

However, as reported by KUT, NPR and Kaiser Health News and other outlets in late November, the Texas Medical Board proposed a rule to allow all out-of-network doctors to give their patients opt-out forms when it comes to non-emergency care. Advocacy groups worried that it would invalidate the intent of the law and its strongest protections. 

The board withdrew the proposed changes Friday morning during its meeting.

“The Board will thoroughly investigate licensees for violating the new balance billing law, and any law connected with the practice of medicine,” the board sent in an emailed statement late Friday afternoon. “Moving forward the Board will be analyzing related rulemaking of other agencies and will work with appropriate state agencies to complement any future rulemaking.”

Advocacy groups say it will be up to one state agency, likely the Texas Department of Insurance, to create and approve rules related to the law.

“We think it’s good news and we think we’re heading in the right direction to make sure this doesn’t end up being a big loophole consumers can fall into,” Blake Hutson with AARP Texas said. “Consumers aren’t supposed to be saddled with out-of-network bills when they didn’t have control over who it was who treated them.”

The law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020.