Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other heavy-handed lawmakers backed by the insurance lobby are pushing price controls as a “solution” to the issue of so-called “surprise medical bills.” Unfortunately, price controls would merely worsen the situation by curtailing patient access to care and deflecting blame from those who are truly to blame for the crisis — big onsurance companies.
Surprise medical bills (SMBs) occur when charges arise as a result of an insured patient receiving care from an out-of-network provider. Contrary to the company refrain being pushed across the media spectrum, SMBs benefit insurance companies by shifting costs onto healthcare providers, hurting patients, doctors, and hospitals alike in the process.
Big insurance companies, which post record profits each year, purposefully craft narrow and confusing policies to render vital medical specialists as “out-of-network.” This results in absurd bills such as Washington native Debbie Moehnke’s case where charges were in excess of $450,000. Moehnke’s insurance company dropped the ball, leaving her over $220,000 in debt.
While it is tempting to believe that price controls would solve the issue of SMBs, history teaches us that price controls lead to more government control and subpar services. Ultimately, price controls fail because they are a top-down approach that undermines the integrity of the free market, which, instead of assigning value based on consumer perception, arbitrarily assigns value based on government fiat.
“By design, placing such price controls on purely private transactions would reduce access to care, increase the power of the federal government, and result in negative, unintended consequences,” a group of 39 representatives, led by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) wrote in a letter on Feb. 10. Furthermore, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers voiced their concerns in a hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday.
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Price controls would limit choice for patients, reduce fair-market compensation for doctors, and harm financially at-risk hospitals in rural communities. Physicians oppose price controls, which favor insurance companies over the medical professionals who provide life-saving services to patients across the United States.
In a recent letter to Congress, physician groups proclaimed that price controls “could lead to market consolidation and artificially low payment rates,” punishing doctors and benefiting the very insurance companies who created the concept of SMBs in the first place.
Moreover, The White House Council of Economic Advisors contends that price controls could prevent the development of approximately 100 new drugs over the next decade.
Naturally, the same insurance lobby that spent approximately $74 million last year pushing for price controls are the same cronies that railroaded the healthcare industry with Obamacare, leaving Americans holding the bag with high deductibles and subpar insurance coverage. Consumers everywhere should be wary of any legislative “solution” reminiscent of the Affordable Care Act misadventure.
Thankfully, conservative members of Congress are pushing for solutions that would leave free healthcare markets intact while protecting consumers.
“To be clear, we believe that patients should be protected from surprise medical bills, which can place a heavy financial burden on individuals that received care outside of their insurance network,” Rep. Harris’ February 10 letter continues, adding, “In pursuing such protections, there exist several proposals that hold patients harmless, increase transparency and resolve disputes that arise from surprise bills.”
Proposals from the Ways and Means Committee and the Education and Labor Committee have floated mediation as one solution to SMBs, however Congress remains gridlocked on the issue. Ultimately, Congress must advance a solution that protects patients and medical professionals while respecting the integrity of free markets over the interests of the insurance lobby.