It’s rare for Republican and Democrats to agree on anything, but there’s one particular issue that both sides of the table are coming together on: surprise medical billing.
President Trump has declared that taming unexpected bills would be a top priority for his administration, a sentiment shared by a handful of Republicans and Democrats who have been studying the problem for years.
The president’s interest in the issue has legislators on both sides of the table feeling enthusiastic about tackling a problem that affects 57% of American adults, according to a survey conducted by the University of Chicago.
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee says he expects to see legislation on surprise billing “in the next several months.”
Surprise billing has become a common tactic in the healthcare industry. Patients are charged for care that is more expensive than they anticipated or is not covered by their insurance. Americans are charged for everything but the male scrubs nurses and doctors are wearing. The practice exposed by the ongoing Kaiser Health News-NPR “Bill of the Month” investigation, which looks at medical billing at large.
While politicians appear to be ready to tackle the issue, the solution is still up in the air. The Trump administration has yet to detail how it will take on the issue of surprise bills, but key legislators are meeting with administration officials to talk about how to reduce health care costs.
Several senators, including Lamar Alexander and Bill Cassidy, have been putting in the work, talking to billing experts about how to take on the issue. They’ve also been talking to state and local officials to discuss the biggest challenges and potential solutions being used around the country.
To bring attention to the issue, Sen. Maggie Hassan brought a guest to the State of the Union address who was billed more than $1,600 for an in-network emergency room visit. The patient learned that the doctor she briefly saw was out-of-network after the fact.
“There does seem to be across-the-board understanding that what’s happening to patients right now isn’t right or fair,” Hassan said.
The Trump administration has reaffirmed that it is committed to addressing surprise medical bills.
Federal legislation is likely necessary to fix the issue, experts say. Some states have already implemented laws meant to curb surprise billing and protect patients from costs, but these laws do not affect self-insured large employers. These employers fall under federal jurisdiction and affect more than 60% of the people that receive insurance through work.