Reader worries about America’s healthcare system
No one who has recently had to receive medical care should have to deal with the added financial burden that comes with getting a massive bill in the mail for costs they presumed would be covered by insurance. Yet surprise billing happens all the time. As Congress works toward solving this problem, our legislators must be sure they are implementing the most effective solution possible — one that does not threaten access to care or increase health care costs for anyone.
Unfortunately, one of the ideas being kicked around in Washington D.C. would call for government-mandated benchmarking to resolve payment disputes between insurers and medical providers. This might shield some people from surprise billing, but it would also create an entirely new set of problems that hurt even more patients than it protects.
Benchmarking fails to account for the varying degrees of difficulty and costs associated with providing care in different regions and among different kinds of health care facilities. That could end up translating to tremendous financial losses for local hospitals, many of which are on shaky enough ground as it is. All this would do is increase the rate of hospital closure or consolidation, either of which would mean fewer options and higher costs for patients.
Meanwhile, another approach being considered in Congress — known as independent dispute resolution (IDR) — offers a far more effective solution to surprise billing. IDR would facilitate a fair negotiation process between insurers and providers, helping maintain a level playing field that protects local hospitals’ ability to provide quality care and controls costs.
To protect patients in Washington and across the country, Senator Patty Murray and our state’s entire congressional delegation should work to ensure that whatever final bill Congress passes on surprise billing leverages the IDR process instead of the misguided benchmarking approach.