The past several months have put a serious strain on Americans from all walks of life. The spread of COVID-19 across the U.S. has caused both an unprecedented health emergency and an economic crisis. Unfortunately, some of those who have the most to lose from all of this are the very same people who are working hard to get the situation under control: medical workers.
As hospitals redouble their efforts and refocus their operations to ensure they are fully prepared to treat patients ahead of a potential second wave of COVID-19, they have also lost significant streams of revenue due to forced cancellations for non-emergency and elective care. At the time when they most need all resources possible, their ability to procure these resources has been severely limited.
Underscoring this problem, of course, has been the issue of surprise medical billing, which involves patients receiving emergency care or going to a doctor they believe is in their network, only to receive an exorbitant bill for that care later down the road. Measures have been taken to alleviate this problem for COVID-19 patients, but more must be done to provide a long-term fix.
To address these issues, some in government have proposed a government rate-setting solution, which they claim could help alleviate the burden that has been placed on medical providers. Of course, like most rate-setting proposals, this is a misguided effort that is coming at the worst possible time. Allowing the government to step in and set prices would enable significant overreach into private health care, inevitably creating a situation where a heavy hand tips the scale in favor of large medical providers and insurance companies.
In an environment where the government can set rates, insurance companies would continue to spend millions lobbying for rates that are favorable to them. These prices would be artificially lowered to such a degree that smaller medical practices and medical facilities would be unable to recuperate the lost revenue, in turn sacrificing access to care for Americans in communities across the nation. This would be especially devastating for rural communities, given that rural medical care facilities have already been rapidly closing in recent years. A rate-setting solution would only amplify the existing problems.
That is why it’s promising to see the Trump administration begin work on solutions that will rein in surprise medical billing while also rebuffing government rate-setting proposals. With the steps it has taken recently, the administration is showing that it is taking the current crisis seriously and wants to provide long-term answers for patients who have been stuck with surprise medical bills since even before the current crisis began.
Now, it is up to lawmakers in Congress to work together with the administration and craft a solution that works for all Americans. Ending surprise medical bills has long been a bipartisan goal, and there is no reason it should divide congressional leaders now. American citizens and health care workers are in desperate need of answers, and our elected leaders must do everything possible to ensure they do.
One such solution, which the Trump administration would be wise to support, is Senator Bill Cassidy’s (R-LA) STOP Surprise Medical Bills Act. Senator Cassidy’s proposal is one that’s built on conservative principles and has shown success in states like New York and Florida that have already implemented similar models. It offers the exact kind of alternative to government rate-setting that our medical system needs right now.
Both COVID-19 and surprise medical billing will continue to pose unique challenges for our health care system in the months ahead. In that time, government officials must avoid being trapped into a solution that relies on government rate-setting, which will inevitably only make the problem worse. Our medical providers simply cannot afford to suffer more losses, and rate-setting would take them further down the wrong path. Price controls have never worked in the past, and they won’t work this time, either.
Jesse Grady is a former staff member of President Donald J. Trump’s 2016 campaign and a former Regional Field Director for the Texas GOP