GOP Must Reject Crony ‘Surprise Medical Billing’ Plan
Now is not the time for the GOP to cave on price controls by supporting a Medicare-for-All-style provision in the next COVID-19 relief legislation. Unfortunately, a number of Republicans are pushing a bad fix to the surprise medical billing issue—a fix that will set prices and stifle medical progress.
Under the cover of eliminating ‘Surprise Medical Billing’ (SMB), Members of Congress are looking to mandate a price-control scheme as a remedy to the narrow coverage limits imposed by insurance companies. Big insurance too often pushes a business model that forces patients out-of-network for care that results in big, surprise medical bills.
As reported in The Washington Examiner:
“Members of Congress are hopeful that stalled efforts to eliminate surprise medical billing practices will start back up with another round of coronavirus economic aid legislation.”
Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is pushing an idea that has been scrapped numerous times over the past year, but like a bad meal it keeps ‘coming up’. The Senator is promoting a flat-out-rate-setting proposal that is an anathema to innovation and free-market principles.
What’s more, Alexander’s price-control plan is opposed by a coalition of 24 free market groups. Last March, the Coalition Against Rate-Setting organized a Congressional letter that implored Leadership:
“As you debate and consider a legislative response for those affected by COVID-19, the undersigned groups representing millions of taxpayers and consumers urge you to reject any attempt to include any language that would seek to address surprise medical billing by creating a government-mandated benchmark (i.e. rate-setting) to determine out-of-network rates for physicians. Government price controls for medical bills would be particularly devastating at a time of great stress for our nation’s patients and healthcare providers.”
The anti-price-control group makes the case that doctors, hospitals, and patients will be hurt by Alexander’s rate-setting scheme. This SMB proposal is a crony play at protecting insurance companies at the expense of patients. Out-of-network pricing is the real culprit, and it is a business decision by insurance companies to pass the bill onto patients and hospitals.
In April, prominent economists warned President Trump and Congressional leaders:
“we are opposed to the enactment of price controls that would peg provider reimbursement to a ‘benchmark’ rate picked by the federal government.”
These economists argue—correctly—that unelected bureaucrats setting prices will hurt access to care and create distortions in the market that will result in shortages.
Surprise medical billing is a problem. It is a problem created and made worse by insurance companies. The Alexander legislation rewards the bad actors by imposing a socialized medicine scheme that will damage our already strained health care system. It’s a bad idea at any time; it’s a dangerous idea in the midst of a health care crisis.
Democrats and Republicans are trying to cut a deal on another coronavirus relief package. Politico reported:
“after two weeks of negotiations and closed-door meetings, the White House and Democratic congressional leaders still remain far apart on a coronavirus deal. Meanwhile, millions of Americans remain unemployed and coronavirus cases and deaths continue to spike in many areas of the country.”
There is immense pressure to cut a deal, yet that deal should stick to the issues of helping the unemployed, providing resources to directly respond to the virus and to continue aid to small business, not a risky health care idea that is untested and will likely slow care.
Republicans must dispatch of this wrong, dangerous scheme for good. The future of medical progress depends on free-market reforms that promote the right care to the right patient at the right time at the right cost. Alexander’s SMB plot is cronyism at best, socialism at worst.
Jerry Rogers is the founder of Capitol Allies and the host of “The Jerry Rogers Show” on WBAL NewsRadio. Twitter: @CapitolAllies.