There is no doubt that healthcare prices are out of control. As Warren Buffett recently opined, the rising cost of healthcare is “a hungry tapeworm on the American economy.”
Now, there is promising news from the United States Senate, with a proposal that would help bring some healthcare prices back down to planet Earth. With 55 proposals from 65 senators (29 Republicans and 36 Democrats) inside the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019, there is a lot to review and consider. But overall, the proposed act embraces President Donald Trump’s promise to lower out-of-pocket healthcare expenses for consumers.
Most importantly, the bill takes direct aim at the serious problem of surprise medical billing. Arrangements between insurance companies and hospitals are a mess, and anyone who has received a recent hospital bill knows they are anything but transparent.
For example, just because an emergency room is “in-network” does not mean the individual doctor is, which can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in surprise bills. In addition, the lack of transparency and competition in pricing results in insurance companies paying exorbitant prices, which in turn makes insurance premiums more expensive.
A June 2019 poll by Morning Consult found that 81% of Americans believe health insurance companies are to blame for surprise medical billing. They are probably right. After all, insurance companies helped create the Obamacare mess and currently have anti-competitive price mandates which cause many problems.
This legislation would keep all emergency healthcare expenses that happen at an in-network facility to stay in-network. Also, it would ensure patients know the estimated price of non-emergency healthcare before a procedure takes place.
Sometimes, thousands of dollars can be saved by shopping around between multiple hospitals. Knowing prices beforehand is essential to making an informed decision. This legislation also bans so-called “gag clauses,” which sometimes prevent employers from helping reduce your healthcare costs. If your employer knows one hospital will be far less expensive than another, they should be allowed to tell you!
However, with so much to like about the Health Care Costs Act, there is one portion that should be corrected. Section 207 fundamentally alters the U.S. system of ensuring the quality and safety of the drugs American patients take. The current system of setting those standards has been in place for 200 years, and a self-funded, independent nonprofit sets those measures of quality and safety in a transparent, non-partisan, evidence-based way. The current standards are also used by U.S. Customers and Border Protection to ensure drugs coming in from other countries are not counterfeit or low-quality. Section 207 should be removed, but the overall bill holds significant promise for market-driven healthcare reform.
President Donald Trump and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar are taking additional actions to lower Americans’ health care costs. For example, HHS will require the listing prescription drug prices in TV ads, exploring using tax-deductible Health Savings Account money to pay for direct primary care and expanding the same tax benefits that large companies currently enjoy to small businesses and self-employed workers.
The goal of all healthcare reform is to prices down while keeping the quality of goods and services high. However, prices and quality measures must be transparent, so that healthcare consumers can make informed decisions while avoiding surprise bills and potential complications from sub-standard medicines. It is time to embrace free-market reforms and pass the Lower Health Care Costs Act – once the Senate gets it right.
Ken Blackwell is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. and a member of the Board of the National Taxpayers Union. He was formerly Ohio Secretary of State.