U.S. Congress should end surprise medical bills

By

Opinion

December 24, 2019 - 9:54 AM

With most purchases, whether it’s groceries, a new car or a house, the price is clear up front. Not so for medical services, which can produce massive, mysterious bills to insurers and patients long after a hospital visit. An ongoing series by National Public Radio and Kaiser Health News has documented bills of $142,000 for a young girl’s snake-bite treatment, $94,000 as part of a woman’s spinal surgery and $48,000 for allergy testing, to note just a few examples.

Such insane bills often remain stubbornly unexplained by the hospitals and insurers involved; all are wildly out of whack with expected costs. Legislation moving through Congress with strong bipartisan support would offer new protections to patients. Its passage is urgent. Its logic is clear: People should be able to know up front what the cost of specific procedures and treatments would be.

Seeking medical treatment isn’t generally a matter of choice. Even with insurance, costs can be significant to patients because of deductibles, co-pays and — especially — procedures that insurance doesn’t cover, sometimes to the surprise of the patient. Add to that unexplained variations in the costs of procedures. Just setting foot in an emergency room can become a financial crapshoot.

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