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Let’s put an end to ‘surprise billing’ in health care

Money and stethoscope to illustrate the cost of health care

It is no secret to those running for the White House or Congress that the high cost of health care is a top issue for American voters. As Americans experience the politics of health care (e.g. healtheaucracy), our stark understanding has been augmented to embrace unexpected hospital or doctor bills. Nothing could be more glaring an example of our deteriorating health system than receiving a “Surprise Bill” as Americans strain to meet their health needs during a pandemic.

Prior to the COVID pandemic, an overwhelming majority of voters – 69% – say reducing the costs of seeing a doctor and taking prescribed medicines is a public policy priority, including 59% of Republicans and 77% of Democrats, according to the Pew Research Center. No doubt, that majority will grow as recovering COVID patients open their mailboxes only to find a supplementary bill from some random anesthesiologist, or ambulance company hoping to renege on a payment disposition they agreed to.

It is a trial lawyer’s dream to ensure that these new surprise claims are forced into some protracted arbitration while patients are on the hook for even more “healtheaucracy.”  It’s time to blow-up this perverse system and end the nefarious practice of surprise billing, once and for all.

Most, if not all of us are reluctant, although intimately aware of the game being played by our elected leaders, the healtheaucracy and the trial lawyers who prey on the human turmoil unfolding as Americans cope with a pandemic, economic closure and riotous protestors.

Dan Eberhart

Dan Eberhart

We the patients, a.k.a., federal taxpayers are the true payer of last resort. No matter how we slice it, we pay a health tax twice. Surprise medical bills are nothing more than a third health tax.

Unfortunately, the cost of health care, including spending on prescription drugs, is expected to reach nearly $6 trillion a year – equal to 19.4% of our national Gross Domestic Product – by the end of the decade.

Since coming into office, President Trump has sought to address runaway health care costs by having the Department of Health and Human Services focus on rising prescription drug prices and the lack of transparency in health care costs. Most recently he called for an end to surprise medical billing, the practice that can only be equated to the money changers, charlatans and hedge fund managers who own hospitals.

Congress may finally deal with this issue. Late last year, efforts to pass a bill to end surprise medical billing had stalled. Fortunately, lawmakers are taking another shot at getting something done. As they consider phase IV of the COVID relief bill, surely Congress will address the need to ensure we stop receiving surprise medical bills. Nothing seems more ghoulish than asking Americans to manage the pandemic, our waning economy in the midst of protests and then slapping us with a surprise medical bill.

The Senate is working to establish fair arbitration standards for disputes between providers and insurance companies on bills more than $750, while pressing doctors to accept a benchmark rate for bills under $750. The House Ways and Means Committee countered with its own bill that would eliminate benchmark rates and rely entirely on arbitration, an approach preferred by hedge fund owners of hospitals and doctors.

Congress is serious enough to be re-engaged on surprise medical bills – the time has come to end the practice without bankrupting health providers.

Dan K. Eberhart is CEO of Canary, an independent oilfield services company in the United States, and a frequent commentator on U.S. politics.The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.

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