Now Is the Time to Address Surprise Billing

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Now Is the Time to Address Surprise Billing

Medpage Today
By: Martin Makary, MD, MPH
May 12, 2020

A photo of Marty Makary MD, MPH

Private equity companies have spent millions in dark money to stall and effectively kill all versions of surprise billing reform. But this week, the issue will come before Congress again. Legislation was introduced Tuesday in the House that, among other things, would further assist hospitals with more relief funds. With this potential third disbursement of federal dollars comes an opportunity to finally address the embarrassing problem of surprise billing that has eroded the public trust in our great medical profession.

Physicians across the country are now signing a letter urging leaders of Congress to address surprise billing once and for all. I have already signed this letter and encourage you to consider doing so as well.

One reason the medical profession is the greatest profession in the world is that patients put their faith and trust in us. But 64% of Americans now say they have avoided or delayed medical care for fear of the bill. As more and more patients lose faith in the system, the doctor-patient relationship is being undermined by surprise billing and the modern-day business practices of price gouging and predatory billing. In fact, these egregious practices have become part of the business model of some private equity groups, which seek to replace physician autonomy with corporate medicine.

Our system today is unnecessarily complicated and works against patients’ interests by putting them in the middle of a finger-pointing blame game, which leaves them holding the bag. It doesn’t make sense for us to accept people with open arms, treat their ailment, and then ruin their lives financially. Medical science is a bastion of scientific and intellectual genius. We can fix this problem. Already, some efforts are advancing price transparency by creating a transparent marketplace for patients.

I’ve spent many years looking at the systematic cost issues that face our health system and patients. Simply put, the lack of fairness and transparency in pricing and billing practices has created financial toxicity and increased the general mistrust of the medical system for millions of Americans. No one designed it to be this bad. In fact, we have good people working in a bad system. When I explain details of pricing, billing, and collections with doctors and hospital leaders, they are invariably shocked and furious to learn how out of control their billing offices have gotten in overcharging patients and shaking people down for more than a reasonable amount for a service.

The current COVID-19 crisis is a stark reminder of the gaps in our health system that exacerbate the pressures facing providers and patients. Many Americans are getting crushed right now. Despite many years of debate in Washington and bipartisan agreement that something must be done, there is still no federal protection in place to safeguard consumers from an egregious surprise medical bill if they need emergency care or have limited options. The reality is that special interests — including the very private equity firms that stand to benefit financially from these exploitative business practices — continue to spend millions to maintain the status quo.

It’s time for a bipartisan compromise to end the non-transparent game of surprise medical billing. It’s time that Congress takes meaningful action to protect patients during this COVID-19 crisis and finally address this issue. Congress has solutions on the table that would bring much greater fairness and transparency to the healthcare system, protect patients from these predatory charges, and ensure that physicians are paid fairly for our services, as we deserve. It’s time we put an end to the cycle of financial toxicity and rebuild the great public trust in the medical profession.

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