Trump outlines plan to tackle 'surprise medical bills'

The plan would tackle sticker shock after emergency services.

May 9, 2019, 2:17 PM

President Donald Trump announced that his administration plans to treat the extra pain some patients experience when they’re faced with so-called “surprise medical bills” and the unexpected high cost that comes with treatment by out-of-network physicians.

The president outlined the principles the administration would support as part of a larger legislative agenda that tackles medical bill sticker shock after emergency services and elective surgery.

“For too long, surprise billings, which has been a tremendous problem in this country, has left some patients with thousands of dollars of unexpected and unjustified charges,” the president said. “Not a pleasant surprise, a very unpleasant surprise.”

PHOTO: A hospital room is seen in this stock photo.
STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

“No one in America should be bankrupted unexpectedly by health care costs that are absolutely out of control. No family should be blindsided by outrageous medical bills,” Trump said.

The president – who has been at battle with Democrats in Congress – said he is eager to work with "both parties" to find a legislative solution and was joined by both Democratic and Republican members of Congress for the announcement.

Senior administration officials told reporters that in emergency situations, the administration wants to make co-payments for emergency care the same for patients regardless of whether they go to an emergency room that’s in or out of network.

For elective surgery, the administration wants to address situations where patients get a surprise charge for a procedure that they understand to be in-network when an out-of-network physician – such as an anesthesiologist – is brought into a procedure.

One of the guests in the room, Drew Calver, a high school history teacher and swim coach from Austin, Texas, was slammed with a $109,101 medical bill after he was hospitalized for a heart attack in 2017.

Calver was taken to an out-of-network hospital and charged $164,941. His insurance paid $55,840, leaving the father of four with a seemingly insurmountable bill. After the story was reported by NPR, the hospital mostly waived the bill but it’s an example of the unexpected costs some patients are faced with.

“I feel like I was exploited at the most vulnerable point in my life, so I hope Congress hears this call to take action, close the loopholes and work towards that transparency,” Calver said when invited to make remarks by the president.

The president also welcomed Elizabeth Moreno and her father, retired physician Paul Davis, to talk about being hit by a whopping $17,000 bill for a routine urine sample. Moreno had the test done at an out-of-network lab.

A survey by the University of Chicago found that fifty-seven percent of American adults have been surprised by a medical bill that they thought would have been covered by insurance, and a 2018 poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 67% of Americans worry about unexpected medical bills.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks during a event on medical billing in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, May 9, 2019, in Washington.
President Donald Trump speaks during a event on medical billing in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, May 9, 2019, in Washington.
Evan Vucci/AP

“Laying out principles for Congress to address surprise billing is another major step in President Trump’s efforts to deliver on this commitment: You, as the American patient, have the right to know what a prescription drug or healthcare service costs before you receive it,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. “We aim to address surprise billing in a way that will protect American patients from this abusive practice and lay a foundation for a system where the patient is put at ease and in control.”

Taking on surprise medical bills has received bipartisan support in Congress. Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, said members of Congress plan to introduce legislation in July.

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