White House backs contract reform to end surprise medical bills

May 09, 2019 / SUSANNAH LUTHI 

President Donald Trump and White House officials on Thursday threw their weight behind a congressional ban on surprise medical bills based on contract reforms, such as barring hospital contracts with physicians who aren’t in the same insurance networks.

“We’re going to hold insurance companies and hospitals totally accountable,” Trump said at an event where he was flanked by congressional lawmakers, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta and patients who have been hit by surprise medical bills.

The president’s position is a strong, sharp statement to industry. Insurers and hospitals have been fighting for the lightest possible touch when it comes to the issue, clashing with policy analysts over the scope of the policy fix.

The principles he laid out for congressional legislation were broad: a solution shouldn’t add to federal expenses, should ban balance billing for emergency care, and should mandate that patients scheduled for nonemergency care should be given “a transparent bill upfront.”

“We want patients in charge and in total control,” Trump said.

But more specifics came from a media call ahead of Trump’s announcement, where senior administration officials characterized the stakeholder discussions as finger-pointing between providers and insurers. They also said that “special interests” have interfered with uniting lawmakers around a strong policy.

And they made it clear that they’re not enthusiastic about arbitration, an idea hospitals are more comfortable with, saying that could lead to “a lot of potential abuses” that would hurt patients.


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Chris J. Stewart

Chris currently serves as Chief Executive Officer of Surgio Health as well as Chief Operating Officer at Ortho Spine Partners. Prior to that, he was the assistant vice president and business unit leader of Medical Device Management for HealthTrust Purchasing Group (HPG).

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