A Proposal to Cut Doctors’ Pay in the Midst of a Pandemic

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Politicians are always lagging indicators – they are just a bit behind the trend or the national mood. Americans want Members of Congress to focus on the science and economics of our current crisis. However, as lagging indicators, some Members of Congress are still thinking in a pre-crisis mindset.   

Lawmakers want to include a wish-list of non-essential, political items to the next relief package, including a provision that would adversely impact doctors. The timing and legislative vehicle is sadly ironic – politicians want to leverage a proposal meant to offer support during the COVID-19 crisis to harm the very front-line workers offering support during the crisis.

Yesterday, a coalition of advocacy and policy organizations released a statement urging Congress “to keep the next Coronavirus relief bill clean and reject any attempts by lawmakers to institute rate-setting (price controls) as a way to “fix” surprise medical billing. Surprise medical billing occurs when patients discharged from an in-network hospital receive an out-of-network bill from an attending doctor.  Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) have indicated their willingness to insert rate-setting into the next relief bill to address this issue, despite well-documented evidence on the harms of healthcare price controls.”

Reports indicate that some in Congress want to use the Phase 4 relief bill to shift the cost of surprise medical billing from insurers to doctors. Why not (asked mockingly)? Senator Alexander tried to sneak it into the last relief legislation: Modern Healthcare reported in March that Senate Health Committee Chair Lamar Alexander was pushing for legislation banning surprise medical bills to be included in Congress’ third bill responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, as a lagging indicator, the senator is at it again.

For clarity, Senator Alexander’s rate-setting/price control measure would be a radical change to policy that will slow the medical response to the coronavirus.

It is immoral to leverage the crisis to advance parochial, political interests over the public interest. And we certainly should not heap more burdens on America’s doctors – while advancing the interest of insurance companies – at a time when we need them most.

Unnecessary government regulations—like price-setting—will severely disrupt the medical response to the Coronavirus. The legislative language being considered will reward insurance companies at the expense of the front-line doctors combating COVID-19. Now is not the time for special interest inserts into a package that must prioritize the nation’s public health.

America is in an unprecedented crisis – 22 million Americans have filed for Unemployment Insurance, schools are closed, churches are streaming their services, 95% of America is under some kind of Stay-at-Home order. Life has changed and so should our politics. No politician should use Coronavirus as cover to promote a narrow, special interest.

Jerry Rogers is the editor at RCH and the host of “The Jerry Rogers Show” on WBAL NewsRadio.

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