President Trump said Thursday that he wants Congress to protect Americans from surprise medical expenses — the large, unexpected bills patients sometimes receive after they undergo surgery or get treatment in an emergency room, for services from doctors who are not part of their insurance networks.
“No family should be blindsided by outrageous medical bills,” Trump said at the White House. “This must end. We’re going to hold insurance companies and hospitals totally accountable.”
A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that consumers are concerned about the issue, with 50% of respondents saying that “protecting people from surprise medical bills” should be a top priority for policymakers.
The White House said that patients should not be charged extra for emergency care, when patients typically have no choice in how or by whom they are treated, and that pricing for elective procedures should be fully transparent before any services are provided. Administration officials did not, however, discuss how they would create and enforce such regulations, and Congress is expected to take the lead in developing a comprehensive proposal. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said that he expects to send the president a bill in July.
The issue is seen as “one of the most likely areas for bipartisan action on health care this year,” The Hill’s Nathaniel Weixel said.
Lawmakers have been working on a bill that would put an end to surprise bills, although there’s little agreement on how costs could be reallocated. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) said that creating an arbitration system to address questionable bills has gained support, although that could be a problem for the White House, which has signaled that it doesn’t support that approach.
Kaiser Health News’s Julie Rovner said that the most significant hurdle may be the conflict between insurers and health care providers on the matter. Doctors and hospitals lean toward the arbitration model to settle billing disputes, while insurers prefer clear pricing benchmarks that would avoid billing disputes in the first place. Rovner said that “it's not clear where compromise might be found.”
Trump said that his administration would soon release more details on a broad effort to increase transparency in health care. “We’re going to be announcing something, I think, over the next two weeks that’s going to bring transparency to all of it, and I think in a way it’s going to be as important as the health care bill. It’s going to be really special,” Trump said.