The heroic and pioneering American spirit that the world has known for centuries is on full display during the coronavirus outbreak. Our nation’s doctors and nurses—risking and sacrificing their own health—are on the frontlines in the global battle against a viral respiratory disease that still has no cure or vaccine. Cases continue to rise as the virus is highly contagious, but it is all-hands-on-deck at our local hospitals: medical professionals, usually in understaffed rural areas, are working long hours to curb the rise of the disease within our own borders. Medical supplies and protective gear are in short supply, yet they continue to fight the pandemic and save the lives of patients with coronavirus.
The results have been apparent: the number of cases in America have been much lower than other parts of the world due in part to the bravery of our medical professionals and experts—the unsung heroes of this crisis—and our unique healthcare system that does not rely on the type of socialist price controls and rate setting that other countries use. But the coronavirus outbreak has also unearthed a growing problem in the insurance industry. Insurance companies sent hefty surprise medical bills for large sums of money to Americans who were tested for coronavirus early on. They didn’t cover the bill, choosing instead to have ordinary Americans be responsible for thousands of dollars in medical costs during a pandemic that could result in lost jobs and reduced hours.
The insurance industry saved some dollars on its bottom lines, while working families went into the red to pay off their surprise medical bills. If they didn’t, their wages could have been garnished. In the middle of a crisis, when Americans are worried about their health and jobs, insurance companies should join the fight and be an ally. During the Second World War, companies put aside profits to help the country. But the opposite is happening.
Special interest groups have spent more than $70 million trying to fundamentally change our healthcare system for the worse. Insurance companies want the government to set medical rates. But government rate setting would put us on the path towards Medicare for All while also causing hospitals to close in rural parts of the country. Those hospitals are critical in our recovery from this pandemic and patients are at risk when they don’t have access to immediate medical care. Patients and the country can’t handle mass rural hospital closures.
President Trump met with leaders of the insurance industry to end surprise billing. They promised him that they would waive copays for coronavirus testing—but what if patients have coronavirus? They haven’t ruled out sending surprise bills to patients who have the disease. We can’t take them at their word.
There is a legislative solution to surprise billing: the STOP Surprise Medical Bills Act. Instead of setting government rates, it would have doctors and insurance companies resolve surprise billing disputes in front of an independent arbiter. Patients are protected from surprise medical bills and doctors would be paid for their treatments. Hospitals are under a lot of financial stress right now and preventing insurers from evading payments is critical.
President Trump’s support for the bill would help put an end to surprise billing nationwide. Many patients would be less fearful of getting tested and treated for coronavirus if there wasn’t a surprise bill afterwards. Surprise billing interferes with our recovery plan and puts us at risk. But the STOP Surprise Medical Bills Act, which our own Senator Tillis has co-sponsored, is our best way to remove a major financial obstacle for patients and doctors during the coronavirus outbreak.