Let's make this permanent

We have talked about surprise medical bills many times on this website. These are bills received by patients - sometimes months after getting care – from an out-of-network provider even when the patient received treatment at an in-network facility.

They aren’t fair to the patient and they drive up health care costs for all of us.

Amidst the gloom of COVID-19 news, the White House made a surprising, but very welcome, policy announcement that will take a large bite out of the surprise billing problem for some patients.

Recently, Congress passed, and the President signed, a $2 trillion stimulus bill called the CARES act. This bill included $100 billion for hospitals and other health care providers. The intention is to help offset lost revenue and increased costs during the COVID-19 emergency.

Just as the administration was expected to release the first $30 billion, they added a condition for providers accepting the money – they had to agree not to send surprise bills to patients being treated for COVID-19.

“The Trump administration is committed to ensuring all Americans are not surprised by the cost related to testing and treatment they need for COVID-19,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere.

This means that anyone with insurance can expect no surprise bills from out-of-network providers if they go to an in-network facility to receive care for the Coronavirus. In North Carolina, Blue Cross NC, the state’s largest health insurer, has announced that they are waiving all cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatment through June 1, 2020.

The White House’s actions combined with Blue Cross NC’s announcement means that North Carolinians who require treatment from the virus will be protected from the high costs associated with hospital stays. According to America’s Health Insurance Plans, the average cost of an ICU hospital stay for a COVID-19 patient is likely to top $30,000.

This is a crucial step by the White House in combating the surprise bills. It is important costs are not a barrier to those who require treatment for this highly contagious virus. However, we should strive to ensure the same protections for all of our country’s patients – not just those suffering from COVID-19.

Before the outbreak started, congress had been considering various methods of addressing the problem. This included an open, market-based approach using benchmark rates as well as a secretive “arbitration” method. Hopefully they will take their cue from the White House and simply put an end to surprise billing once and for all.

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