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Ending surprise medical bills … Not so easy

Written by Dr. Daliah Wachs
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The Trump Administration has vowed to put an end to “surprise medical bills.”  But this may be easier said than done.

Reports of “sticker shock” have exponentially grown over the years and consumers want transparency of what their health care visit is going to cost.  However, the average physician, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, hospital, medical center, etc. don’t know themselves until the insurance company sends an EOB “Explanation of Benefits” delineating what is discounted, what is covered, and what is the patient responsibility.

So to start, President Trump is asking Congress to address those charges incurred by “out of network” facilities to which patients go to in an emergency setting.  Wanting to hold “insurance companies and hospitals accountable,” President Trump wants to put an end to patients getting charged for “services they did not know anything about, and sometimes services they did not have any information on.”

Can he do it?  Politicians on both sides of the aisle want to help curb health care costs, but both sides want to get the credit.  There’s race to see who could do more for healthcare before the 2020 election.

Why can’t health costs be predictable/fixed?

There’s a few reasons why cost transparency in an emergency medical setting is challenging.

Firstly, insurance companies aren’t transparent to hospitals. They only inform the medical facility of the out of pocket costs once they take weeks to review the claim.  This can be streamlined and cut down in time with software, but same day pricing by an insurance company is impeded by the need to see if the patient paid (or will pay) their premiums that month, or if they are still employed and have the same active insurance.

Secondly, patients don’t always know what their diagnosis is when they walk up to the front counter. Some may think they have a “cold,” but actually end up having a bout of pneumonia. Some may think they have a “stomach bug,” but after CT confirmation, learn they have appendicitis. Hence until the medical provider performs the evaluation and testing, a diagnosis and then “cost to treat”, cannot be given.

Finally, patients may not prefer the “cost factor” added into their facilities’ decision making.  If they pay a certain amount for a visit and end up needing more pain control, a repeat breathing treatment, or some extra bandages, they may not want to have to take out their wallet, sort of speak, each time they need more services.

As a physician who, for years, pleaded with insurance companies to give us an idea of what they would want a patient to pay, I’m for any campaign to increase price transparency and offer patient’s more choice.  However, since medicine and health can be unpredictable, coming up with predictable “costs” may prove difficult.

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Daliah Wachs is a guest contributor to GCN news, her views and opinions, medical or otherwise, if expressed, are her own. Doctor Wachs is an MD,  FAAFP and a Board Certified Family Physician.  The Dr. Daliah Show , is nationally syndicated M-F from 11:00 am - 2:00 pm and Saturday from Noon-1:00 pm (all central times) at GCN.

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