A thank you banner for fire fighters, first responders and hospital workers stands outside Mercy Medical Center in Redding, Calif., Friday, Aug. 3, 2018. Dozens of staff members, including doctors, nurses and others at the medical center are keeping the hospital running despite losing their homes to the flames. (AP Photo/Michael Burke)
The coronavirus pandemic has shined the spotlight on the shortcomings of our healthcare system, with the front headline being surprise medical billing. For many Americans, this has been the first time that they have heard of the unfair practice. And for others, it is an all too familiar issue, as thousands of patients have fallen victim to this unfortunate insurance industry scheme after seeking treatment for coronavirus symptoms.
Americans are frustrated, and Congress is beginning to take notice, having outlined several different solutions in an attempt to end surprise medical bills. However, one method, called rate-setting, would expand government overreach and force many rural healthcare facilities fighting on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic to close their doors.
Public research institutes, medical providers, and think tanks have come out in fierce opposition to this proposed solution. The Pegasus Institute, a research organization located in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, urged Congressional leaders not to support a benchmarking approach, as it would lead to the government setting price controls. In a recent release put out by the institute, they warned that government rate-setting would limit access to medical care for patients, particularly those in rural areas, and hurt the hospitals and doctors that are working on the frontlines to save lives. Underserved communities will face worse physician shortages and have fewer hospitals during and after the crisis.
Having the government set fixed prices would allow the largest insurance companies to game the system in their favor and jeopardize the efforts of medical professionals to flatten the curve. It would be the last straw for hospitals and healthcare providers in rural areas that have been facing medical shortages for years now. Insurer-set rates, which would be much lower than the actual market value for medical services, would finally push many of the remaining rural hospitals into bankruptcy, joining over one hundred rural hospitals that have already closed their doors throughout the past 15 years. Americans in rural communities would have to travel even further to find the nearest hospital or doctor’s office in emergencies. This is a recipe for disaster in the middle of an unprecedented epidemic.
But rural areas aren’t the only places that would be hurt by government rate-setting legislation. Urban communities will also face its effects. The recent wave of patients in major cities has our hospitals stretched thin and doctors working around-the-clock, sacrificing their own health to flatten the curve. They have canceled scheduled check-ups and non-emergency care to divert all of their resources into helping sick patients in need of urgent care. Healthcare providers across the nation are balancing on a thin financial tightrope and are incurring major losses, with some physicians having to dock their own pay to help keep community hospitals open.
Doctors and nurses have made great sacrifices to help treat as many sick Americans as possible. Some have gone as far as living out of their own cars, parked near hospitals, to be able to help at a moment’s notice and to keep their own families safe, quarantining themselves in order to stop spreading the virus. One critical care nurse said that he had to leave his wife and children to live out of a rented car, saying that he’s now having to miss his daughter’s first birthday. This has been a difficult time for the doctors and nurses who are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis, and they need support from leaders in Washington.
Both parties, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, must work together to defend the first responders that are giving it their all right now for the rest of us, risking their lives to care for patients and slow the outbreak. With the continued support of Congress during this crisis, we can help medical professionals take us one step closer towards defeating this epidemic.
Katlyn Batts is a contributor at Redstate.com