Michigan Association of Health Plans

Hadden: End surprise medical billing to protect our working families

When Americans consider what makes a good job, naturally they think of take-home pay. But they also know that employers contribute much more in support of their employees, including health care benefits that ensure workers are healthy, happy, and productive on the job.

Nearly half of all U.S. citizens are covered by their employers. Michigan’s manufacturers are proud to provide the best possible health care benefits for workers — and that is why they also work in support of reforms that help keep rising health care costs in check, so they can continue supporting their employees.

One of the most pressing healthcare issues today is known as “surprise medical billing.” This practice occurs when an insured patient sees an out-of-network provider, oftentimes without their knowledge, and that provider sends them a bill that may be hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Importantly, this bill is well above the actual market rate for the service in the area.

Under the current system, when medical service providers treat patients who are out of their network, they are free to charge the patient with outrageously high medical bills. This can lead to heartbreaking scenarios. On a regular basis, employers face situations in which a valued employee is facing an extremely difficult financial strain from a surprise medical bill. Some are able to intervene on the employee’s behalf, but others are not able to take on the cost of the bill without dealing a serious blow to their operations. It is a tragic situation for everyone involved.

This is especially the case for family budgets. Households across Michigan cannot afford to take on surprise medical bills on top of their existing expenses – many of which are already related to rising health care costs. That’s why it is time for this unsustainable situation to end.

This is not an isolated issue, either. Surprise medical billing has become a widespread issue. According to a recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of all insured adults said they have received a surprise medical bill from an out-of-network provider in the past two years. Something must be done.

To address this problem, Congress should advance federal legislation that will establish market-based benchmark rates for out-of-network medical services, so costs are kept in check. Other policy proposals have attempted to address this problem in different ways, such as arbitration between parties, but that method invariably fails to bring down overall costs on the health care system and would ultimately raise premiums. A bill in the Senate, S 1895, the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019, is a good model as it would establish benchmark rates based on local marketplaces while avoiding implementing any kind of arbitration system.

Market-based benchmark rates allow for a fair playing field for providers, consumers, and their employers. Immediate action by Congress is necessary to protect patients in Michigan and around the country while keeping health care costs reasonable for employers. Michigan’s manufacturers urge our state’s congressional delegation to make ending surprise medical bills a top legislative priority.

Chuck Hadden is president and CEO of the Michigan Manufacturers Association. This article originally appeared in the Lansing State Journal