Thursday May 23, 2019

Trump to Fight Health Care Sticker Shock by Limiting “Surprise Medical Bills”

“Surprise” bills amounting to tens of thousands of dollars can hit patients and their families when they are most vulnerable — after a medical emergency or following a complex surgical procedure

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health care, surprise medical bills
FILE - A doctor speaks to a patient in an emergency room at Northside Hospital in Cumming, Georgia, Jan. 29, 2018. VOA

President Donald Trump will begin a push Thursday to fight health care sticker shock by limiting “surprise medical bills,” the unexpected charges faced by insured patients when a member of a health care team that treated them is not in their insurer’s network.

Senior administration officials told The Associated Press the Republican president will outline principles he can support as part of legislation to limit such billing practices. Republican and Democratic lawmakers have been trying to make progress on the topic for months, and White House support improves chances that something will get done.

Patients being treated for medical emergencies often are in no position to check into whether their insurers have contracted with their surgeons or anesthesiologists to provide medical care. Trump wants to make it clear that patients who receive emergency care should not be hit with charges that exceed the amount paid to in-network providers.

health care, surprise medical bills
Trump wants to make it clear that patients who receive emergency care should not be hit with charges that exceed the amount paid to in-network providers. VOA

“Surprise” bills amounting to tens of thousands of dollars can hit patients and their families when they are most vulnerable — after a medical emergency or following a complex surgical procedure. Often patients are able to negotiate lower charges by working with their insurers and the medical provider. But the process usually takes months, adding stress and anxiety.

The officials said the legislation also should protect patients seeking elective care by ensuring that they are fully informed before scheduling their care about which providers will be considered out of network and what extra costs that will generate.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter before Trump’s announcement. The White House effort is part of a broader push by the Trump administration to increase transparency in the health care system. On Wednesday, the administration finalized regulations requiring drug companies to disclose list prices of medications costing more than $35 for a month’s supply.

surprise medical bills, health care
Patients being treated for medical emergencies often are in no position to check into whether their insurers have contracted with their surgeons or anesthesiologists to provide medical care. VOA

The president also will make the case that legislation should not lead to additional costs for taxpayers. Insurers form networks of doctors and hospitals, in part, to gain some leverage for negotiating reimbursements. Usually patients pay a bigger share of the bill for any care sought outside those networks.

But sometimes, patients don’t know they got care outside of their network until they get their bill. A House panel held a hearing on surprise medical bills last month. Trump also participated in a January meeting with health care advocates and victims of surprise billing. The officials said Trump made clear following the meeting that he wanted his administration to work on finding a fix.

States also have been working to protect consumers from surprise medical bills. A survey of states by Georgetown University found that about half the states have acted to protect consumers, but some, such as California, Connecticut, Florida and a handful of others, have the most comprehensive protections. But states don’t have jurisdiction over most health plans sponsored by large employers, which cover about 100 million people and operate under the umbrella of a federal law.

surprise medical bills, trump, health care
“Surprise” bills amounting to tens of thousands of dollars can hit patients and their families when they are most vulnerable — after a medical emergency or following a complex surgical procedure. Pixabay

A coalition that includes major insurers, business groups, and consumer organizations has been pressing Congress for federal legislation. The basic elements would include informing patients when a doctor or service provider is out-of-network, setting a federal standard for what out-of-network clinicians can charge, and guaranteeing that the changes do not lead to premium increases.

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But a major hang-up has been agreeing on payment rates for out-of-network services that are mutually acceptable to medical specialists, hospitals and insurers, who have conflicting interests.

Jack Hoadley, a research professor emeritus at Georgetown, told lawmakers last month that unexpected medical bills are a major concern for consumers, with two-thirds of Americans saying they are “very worried” or “somewhat worried” that they or someone in their family will receive a surprise bill. He said programs like Medicare, Medicaid and veterans care protect consumers from out-of-network bills. But the same protections do not exist for most private insurance. (VOA)

Next Story

Iran’s Zarif Tells Trump to ‘Try Respect’ Instead of Threats

The U.S. also suspects Iran was behind the sabotage of four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates

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Iran, Zarif, Trump, Respect, Threats
The increased tensions with Iran began brewing a year ago when Trump pulled the United States out of the six-nation nuclear deal with Iran. VOA

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggested Monday that U.S. President Donald Trump “try respect” instead of issuing threats.

He was responding to a Twitter post Sunday in which Trump said: “If Iran wants to fight, that will the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”

Zarif said Trump, under pressure from a group that includes his National Security Adviser John Bolton and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is hoping to achieve what “other aggressors failed to do.'”

“Iranians have stood tall for millennia while aggressors all gone,” Zarif wrote. “Economic terrorism and genocidal taunts won’t ‘end Iran.'”

Iran, Zarif, Trump, Respect, Threats
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggested Monday that U.S. President Donald Trump “try respect”. Flickr

Last week, Trump appeared to be backing away from his apparently hawkish stance against Iran, saying he would be open to talks.

When asked by a reporter at the White House on Thursday if the United States was going to war with Iran, Trump replied, “I hope not.”

But there has been no apparent let up in the tensions between the United States, its regional allies and Iran.

The State Department says a “low-grade rocket” fell inside the green zone in Baghdad, less than a kilometer from the U.S. embassy Sunday. No injuries or damage were reported.

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U.S. Central Command spokesman Capt. Bill Urban said the Pentagon was aware of an explosion outside the embassy, adding, “There were no U.S. or coalition casualties, and Iraqi Security Forces are investigating the incident.”

A State Department spokesman says the U.S. will not tolerate such attacks and that it will hold Iran responsible “if any such attacks are conducted by its proxy militia forces.”

Saudi Arabia is blaming Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen for a drone attack on two Saudi oil-pumping stations last week.

The U.S. also suspects Iran was behind the sabotage of four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates last week. Two of the damaged tankers were Saudi.

Iran, Zarif, Trump, Respect, Threats
Trump said: “If Iran wants to fight, that will the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!” Pixabay

The Saudis also say they will not tolerate Iranian aggression.

“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not want war in the region and does not strive for that,” foreign affairs minister Adel al-Jubeir said Sunday. “But at the same time, if the other side chooses war, the kingdom will fight this will all force and determination and it will defend itself, its citizens and its interests.”

Saudi King Salman has called for emergency summits with Gulf and Arab leaders on May 30 to discuss what the kingdom’s official news agency describes as “aggressions and their consequences.”

An Iranian news agency quotes Iran’s Revolutionary Guard head Hossein Salami as saying the country does not want war, but is “not afraid” of it.

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A statement from the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet Sunday spoke of increased maritime patrols and exercises in the Arabian Sea that highlight the “lethality and agility to respond to threat”

The Pentagon has already sent bombers to the region.

The increased tensions with Iran began brewing a year ago when Trump pulled the United States out of the six-nation nuclear deal with Iran.

Under the agreement, Iran limited its uranium enrichment program in exchange for the end of sanctions and economic relief.

The limitations were meant to ensure Iran does not develop nuclear weapons, something Iran denied it had been doing.

Trump, in an interview with Fox News recorded last week and broadcast Sunday, said he does not “want to fight” but that when it comes to Iran, “you can’t let them have nuclear weapons.”

The reimposed U.S. sanctions have left the Iranian economy in tatters and Iran complains it has yet to see the promised economic benefit from the countries that are still part of the nuclear deal — Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced two weeks ago he was pulling out of part of the nuclear deal and would restart some uranium enrichment if there were no economic benefits by early July. (VOA)