White House Pushes to End Surprise Medical Bills: Report

Yuval Rosenberg

The White House is pushing Congress to take action on a plan to end “surprise” medical bills, possibly by including it as part of the next coronavirus relief package, Politico’s Susannah Luthi and Rachel Roubein report.

Congress punted on a legislative fix to the problem last year, as lawmakers — buffeted by intense lobbying on the issue — couldn’t agree on competing proposals to prevent health care providers from hitting patients with unexpected bills for emergency room visits or out-of-network care. The main point of contention was how to determine compensation for health care providers and resolve billing disputes.

Trump administration officials are now floating a plan that would simply ban surprise bills but avoid specifying out how doctors and hospitals would get paid by insurers, Luthi and Roubein report, citing administration sources, Capitol Hill aides and industry lobbyists familiar with discussions. Billing disputes would reportedly have to be worked out case by case.

Cost concerns could still kill the White House plan: “The prospect of the White House plan raising health care costs could yet douse enthusiasm on Capitol Hill,” Luthi and Roubein write. “Though congressional scorekeepers haven't issued a formal estimate, a congressional aide said the Congressional Budget Office has advised through informal guidance that the plan would raise premiums by driving up provider rates.” A spokesperson for Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, told Politico that she is concerned that the White House proposal would increase patients’ costs. Doctors, insurers and employers all still have concerns.

The bottom line: There’s probably no easy way to steer clear of obstacles to a deal. “In the end, the issue is the same as it’s been for over a year,” Politico’s Adam Cancryn and Dan Diamond say. “All sides support an elimination of surprise bills. But if the patient isn't paying for those sometimes-hefty treatment expenses, some other part of the health sector will need to — and nobody wants to be the one stuck with the bill.”

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