By Katlyn Batts
Did you catch Big Insurance’s ad blitz during the South Carolina Democratic debate? The ads—part of the industry’s more than $70 million campaign—claimed that government price controls would somehow end surprise medical bills, which patients usually receive after visiting an emergency room that wasn’t in their insurance network. But insurance companies and their lobbyists know that their plan, which protects a terrible healthcare scam, isn’t popular with voters or lawmakers. So, they’ve coined an Orwellian euphemism to describe granting absolute power to the government to set private medical rates: they call it market-based pricing.
This is laughable. On what planet does government rate-setting have anything to do with the free market? In fact, it’s literally the opposite of a market-based approach: the government would dictate prices to doctors and hospitals, curtailing their right to set their own rates. Still, even with fixed medical prices, the insurance companies can still hand out-of-network bills to patients—and good luck appealing it. The insurance industry is the judge, jury, and executioner, leaving patients with little power to challenge unfair out-of-network bills, which often ask for thousands of dollars.
There is an alternative, bipartisan bill that doesn’t hand total control over medical rates to the government and would instead empower patients, not bureaucrats and insurers. Senator Bill Cassidy’s introduced a common-sense plan that would allow an outside, independent arbiter to help insurance companies and doctors resolve out-of-network bills. The burden would be lifted from the shoulders of patients, who would be shielded from surprise bills. Instead of government-mandated prices, this is an actual market-based solution that balances the scale. Patients would come first, not the demands of the insurance industry.
In the lower chamber, Representatives Kevin Brady and Richard Neal, of the Ways and Means Committee, have taken some steps that look similar to Senator Cassidy’s lead at first glance. But their plan lacks some of the critical protections included in the Senate bill. It needs measures that prevent insurers from shrinking medical access to patients, and guard rails that thwart any of their efforts to proceed with government rate-setting and duck reimbursing doctors. These added fixes are the only way to get an arbitration solution right.
At the same time, there are also some lawmakers who are siding with insurance companies over patients and helping them protect their scheme. Democratic Representative Frank Pallone has introduced a bill that gives insurance companies everything they are asking. His bill would allow the government to set medical rates, which will be advantageous for insurers but not for many patients and doctors, especially those in my home state of North Carolina.
Lowballing insurance companies would make it difficult for rural doctors and hospitals to keep their doors open. Government rates would undercut them, driving prices below fair market value. At the same time, rural patients, who are seeing doctor shortages in their communities, would have even fewer options. It’s cronyism at its worst—and puzzling why some members of Congress are supporting Pallone’s plan.
But Rural America has a defensive wall against government rate setting. From Senators Thom Tillis to Ben Sasse, they have conservative lawmakers who have their backs and can prevent the blueprint for Medicare for All from passing Congress. Our representatives can support and champion Senator Cassidy’s bill over socialist price controls and help this legislation reach the president, who is prepared to sign it. Patients are ready for an end to surprise medical bills.
Katlyn Batts is a contributor at RedState.com.