Thursday, January 23, 2020

OK Rural Association asks Congressional delegation to act on surprise medical billing

The Oklahoma Rural Association weighed in this week on the issue of surprise medical billing by sending the following letter to Oklahoma's Congressional delegation. Oklahoma state legislators are discussing the issue as well, which you can read about here.

January 20, 2020

As a nation, we continue to grapple with the rising cost of health care and health insurance. As you know, one of the most troubling aspects of this trend is the prevalence of hidden costs that are passed onto patients by insurance companies after they deny an out-of-network claim. As you and other members of Congress seek to remedy this, I urge you to use the wisdom and foresight you have lent to other policy issues to mitigate unintended consequences that make the solution further complicate, rather than solve, the original problem.

Some states, like California, have sought to resolve surprise billing through cost controls, but such plans have proved short-sighted. Setting low rates for medical care might sound like an appealing option to keep costs low, but it creates another problem: access. These caps could put doctors out of business. In fact, California is currently experiencing a doctor shortage that leaves many communities underserved, particularly rural farming communities. Rural communities across the country already face doctor shortages and other hurdles to accessing healthcare services. Additional and more severe shortages caused by government rate-setting would unquestionably harm these communities.

New York, on the other hand, has instituted an arbitration system, which empowers a third party to resolve billing disputes between doctors and insurance companies. This system has shown promise, maintaining patient access to vital (and potentially life-saving) care while reducing out-of-network billing by 34% and lowering emergency room fees by 9%.

Any legislation that addresses this problem must recognize that surprise medical bills usually emerge from a dispute between a patient’s insurance and that patient’s doctor. Patients themselves should not be in the middle of these disputes. As you look at potential solutions that protect patients and remove them from the middle of this process, please tread carefully to ensure that high costs are not slashed at the expense of access.

Thank you.
Monica Collison
President
Oklahoma Rural Association

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