Common ground in Washington still exists. We’ve seen that it is possible for coalitions of conservatives, moderates and progressives to come together – even on issues like health care – and tackle major challenges.
At the end of last year, we were proud to be part of the bipartisan group that helped get emergency COVID-19 relief over the finish line as part of a year-end funding bill. In addition to that relief, the bill that was signed into law included a top bipartisan priority of ours: ending the practice of surprise medical billing.
For far too long, many Americans did everything right at the doctor’s office or hospital, but still found themselves stuck with surprise medical bills, sometimes to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.
One individual – who joined a White House event on the need to end surprise medical bills that we attended in 2019 – had been charged $108,951 for care after he had a heart attack, even though he had insurance, because he was taken to an out-of-network hospital.
Another person from New Hampshire, who sought treatment after he cut his finger making dinner, was charged $3,500 because while he went to his in-network hospital, the physician who treated him there was an independent contractor, whose services were not covered by his insurance.
Outrageous and unfair stories like these are why we came together in a bipartisan effort to end this practice, one that had become common as health care providers and insurers could not agree to payment terms – leaving the patient holding the bag.
For two years, we worked to build a bipartisan coalition, and introduced legislation to end surprise medical bills. We helped bring Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate together with the White House and health care stakeholders. And eventually, we found compromise and consensus.
Ending surprise medical bills will save patients a substantial amount of money – and it will also save taxpayers billions of dollars.
We are proud that our efforts led to the inclusion of legislation to end surprise medical billing in the year-end government funding agreement, providing Americans with significant new protections.
This bill makes clear that regardless of where patients receive emergency care, they will only be responsible for their in-network cost-sharing amount. It also adds protections for patients who seek non-emergency care at an in-network facility, but receive care from an out-of-network provider who they’re not able to choose – such as an anesthesiologist.
With patients now out of the middle, this bill establishes a process to resolve the payment disputes in these situations between health care providers and insurers.
Ending surprise medical bills will save patients a substantial amount of money – and it will also save taxpayers billions of dollars. The latest nonpartisan estimate says that this bill will save taxpayers roughly $18 billion. And with these savings, we were able to work with our colleagues to extend vital public health funding – including funding for Community Health Centers for three years.
Passage of legislation to end surprise medical bills speaks to the fact that when Republicans and Democrats are committed to solving a problem, we can come together and find bipartisan common ground to overcome major challenges. In recent years, we’ve had many disagreements related to health care, but members of both parties worked in a good faith effort to get this over the finish line.
This is the type of bipartisan problem solving that we need to see more of moving forward. We will continue to work together and with our colleagues in Congress on issues where we can find agreement, build consensus, and get legislation passed that makes a difference for the American people.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, a physician, was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Republican representing Louisiana in 2014.