Doctors, nurses, and hospitals have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, putting their health at risk to treat sick patients. But while they are busy slowing the spread of the virus, insurance lobbying groups are pushing Congress to pass legislation that would undercut medical professionals. The nation’s largest insurance companies want the government to hand itself the power to unilaterally set fixed rates for surprise medical bills, artificially distorting the market to give them an upper hand over our doctors and healthcare providers, as insurers would have substantial influence over the price controls.
Government rate-setting would lead to devastating physician shortages and plummet the quality of medical care, especially in rural communities that have seen mass hospital closures in recent years. If Congress passes rate-setting legislation, it would push healthcare providers and medical practices out of business, forcing Americans to drive miles to find medical care in the middle of a pandemic and after the country recovers from coronavirus. The nation would be left less able to battle another outbreak without as many hospitals and medical practices. Americans in rural and underserved areas would also be left without as much medical support when they need it most.
Neighborhood doctors’ offices and local hospitals are facing a financial crisis and are struggling to stay open right now. Scheduled nonemergency procedures and elective surgeries that were canceled earlier in the year amid state stay-at-home orders have left smaller medical providers in a financial hole. The economic toll has been an 18 percent drop in healthcare spending nationwide, marking the largest decline since 1959, when the federal government began collecting data on this.
Physician practices have seen their number of patients drop by 30 to 75 percent, with some losing as much as half of their revenues, which go toward paying staff, their lease, and other operating costs. Smaller practices are now worried about financially surviving and are having to consider laying off doctors, causing the physician shortages that economists and medical experts have warned about. One expert said that healthcare providers are now less prepared when additional waves of the virus hit later this year.
President Trump has come out in support of finding a solution for this ongoing issue, and it is time that Congress presents him sound legislation that protects both patients and medical providers on the front lines. Senator Cassidy has since introduced a bill, called the STOP Surprise Medical Bills Act, that would allow for an arbitrator to step in on behalf of the patient and stand up to Big Insurance. The bill would ensure that both the patient and medical providers are represented fairly, and not taken advantage of during an already stressful situation.
Doctors and hospitals, which have shouldered most of the relief efforts, need support from leaders in Washington, such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, so that the STOP Surprise Medical Bills Act can be brought to President Trump’s desk. This bill is essential for medical providers who want to continue to be able to keep their doors open for patients, particularly those in rural communities, and help flatten the curve of coronavirus infections. Doctors have had our backs, now Congress has to continue to have theirs.
Robert Graham is the former Chairman of the Arizona Republican Party and served as a senior advisor for President Trump’s 2016 campaign.