With over 35 million Americans out of work right now and even more struggling in the economic fallout, bad actors in the insurance industry continue to hit patients with costly surprise medical bills. Earlier this year, in response to public outrage, the industry promised that they would not send surprise bills to patients who take the COVID-19 test, but recent reports reveal that they haven’t stopped.
Congress passed legislation that mandates insurance companies to cover 100 percent of the fees for COVID-19 tests, but Americans across the country have still found surprise medical bills in the mail after they underwent the supposedly “free” test. A graduate student almost lost two weeks of her pay to her insurer when it charged her more than $500 for the test. It wasn’t until NBC News asked about it that the insurer waived the fee. Meanwhile, patients here in Florida are beginning to be hit with surprise charges, with one patient citing a $200 bill for a COVID-19 test.
Insurance companies should not be surprise billing patients for COVID-19 testing. It is critical that Americans who suspect that they have the virus, or have been around those that had it, be tested themselves. This could help flatten the curve and prevent another spike in cases, but stories of insurers still sending surprise bills could deter others from getting tested. Big Insurance should not be using a pandemic to profit, but some of the largest insurers have not only tried to pass on the payments for testing, they are also pushing for legislation that would undercut doctors who are working around the clock on the front lines.
Millions are being spent on ads and lobbying to pressure Congress into supporting a price-fixing scheme that some insurers claim would end the problem of surprise medical bills. These insurers want to hand Washington more power to set prices for medical services. And guess who would have a major voice in deciding those rates and would push for fixed prices that benefit their bottom line? Big Insurance.
More than 160 of the nation’s leading economists recently signed a letter that urges Congress to not pass government price-fixing legislation, saying that it would plummet the quality of medical care in America. Rural hospitals would be forced to close, taking away quick access to medical care for patients in those communities. It would undercut doctors who are struggling financially right now to meet payroll and cover their operating expenses, as they have had to cancel routine check-ups and nonessential surgeries—which make up a large part of their revenues—to use their time and resources on treating COVID-19 patients. They have taken serious financial losses and more big government control is not the solution.
President’s Trump’s recent proposal surrounding Surprise Medical Billing shows that there is an opportunity to fix this issue. Now is the time for members of Congress to support Senator Cassidy’s (R-LA) Stop Surprise Medical Bills Act, which takes patients out of the middle through an independent dispute resolution. This legislation is supported by the doctors fighting on the frontlines against COVID because it doesn’t give power to big insurance.
Our leaders need to provide critical support to the doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers that have been essential in the battle against the coronavirus outbreak. They are stretched thin and need to prepare for the next wave of coronavirus cases that experts at the Centers for Disease Control predict will hit later this year. By supporting Senator Cassidy’s legislation, both President Trump as well as key leaders on Capitol Hill can put an end to surprise medical bills for Americans across the country using a method that protects doctors, nurses, and their patients.
Matt Caldwell served as a member of the Florida House from 2010-2018 and was the Republican nominee for Florida Commissioner of Agriculture in 2018.