In 2018 alone, there were 130 million emergency room visits in the United States, an average of more than 350,000 visits each day. Of these emergency room visits, more than 16 million resulted in a hospital admission and more than two million resulted in a critical care admission.
Every day, hundreds of thousands of Americans seek medical treatment at hospitals across the country, and many do so in dire and emergent circumstances. Every day, first responders, doctors, and nurses like me remain dedicated to delivering life-saving medical treatment. I know first-hand just how critical that work is to millions of American families.
But after receiving this critical care, many individuals face surprise medical bills that pose a serious financial threat. A 2018 study from the University of Chicago found that 57 percent of Americans have received a surprise medical bill for a treatment they believed would be covered by insurance. Surprise medical billing is so prominent that it tops the list of financial concerns for Americans, with two-thirds of U.S. adults reporting that they are worried or very worried about receiving one.
Luckily, Congress passed legislation last year to end the practice of surprise medical billing, protect patients from this significant financial burden, and support the front-line providers who deliver life-saving treatment. The No Surprises Act protects patients from surprise medical bills by creating an independent dispute resolution (IDR) process for insurers and healthcare providers to settle billing disputes.
Despite this milestone, U.S. doctors and healthcare providers now face an enormous risk. Insurance companies spent millions on lobbying to prevent the passage of the No Surprises Act. Now, the same insurance companies are ramping up their lobbying efforts once again, in attempts to influence the law’s implementation.
In the coming weeks, the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) will begin the rulemaking process for the No Surprises Act, which will determine the effectiveness of the IDR process in protecting patients and supporting healthcare workers. While the IDR process is intended to balance power between insurers and healthcare providers, insurance companies are lobbying for the rules to be built in their favor.
If insurance companies are successful, doctors and health care providers across the U.S. will face significant financial risk at a time when most medical centers are already struggling to keep their doors open. According to a recent report, approximately 25 percent of rural hospitals are at risk of closure due to financial burdens, and 82 percent of these hospitals are considered highly essential to their communities.
While insurance companies have posted record profits during the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals lost more than $323 billion in 2020, according to the American Hospital Association. Heightened financial burdens for healthcare providers will cause essential medical centers to shut down, resulting in limited medical access for thousands of Americans in vulnerable communities.
Insurance companies are fighting to hold on to their record profits and leave first-line responders and healthcare workers to bear the financial burden of the lifesaving care they deliver every day. Our healthcare providers have dedicated themselves to caring for those who need it most, and especially after the past year, we cannot saddle them with more financial risk than they already face.
I urge Senators Rubio and Scott to choose our first-line responders over the special interests of insurance companies as HHS begins their rulemaking process. The future of American healthcare is on the line.
Katie Morris is the chairwoman of Citizens for Florida Prosperity.