The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us a lot about how our country operates and has specifically shed light on the vulnerabilities in our healthcare system. Hospitals and healthcare professionals across the state are rationing critical medical supplies amongst a nationwide shortage, and at a time when consumers are relying on our healthcare system most, many are continuing to be met with unexpected medical costs that they simply cannot afford in today’s unstable economy. An arbitrary system of unreasonable rate-setting is putting doctors and hospitals at risk for financial collapse and leaves patients on the hook to pay the price. The economic, mental and emotional toll of these unexpected “surprise medical bills” is equal parts immoral and unfair. Often these individuals sought life-saving care at the closest medical facility or were transported there by first responders. In those moments, getting to care as quickly as possible is the only thing that matters. Researching which hospitals or doctors are “in-network” is rightfully the furthest thought from anyone’s mind. However, it turns out that the insurance companies’ “network” — or lack thereof — can inflict pain and suffering long after the initial medical crisis was resolved. If these individuals saw a physician or went to a hospital that was “out of network,” they often received a surprise medical bill of staggering size long after the fact. This happens even when those individuals had high quality insurance, which begs the question: what is the point of health insurance — why do we pay rising premiums and deductibles - if we can’t count on it in our gravest moment of need? Surprise medical bills are wreaking havoc on individuals and families who did absolutely everything right. As a whole, we must do better, and that starts with agreeing to a real solution that protects patients and also ensure that doctors and hospitals — who are facing historic a financial crisis during the pandemic — are also treated equitably. The best solution to protect patients from these surprise medical bills during this critical time is Independent Dispute Resolution (IDR), which establishes a process for so-called out-of-network claims to be adjudicated by a neutral third party. This allows insurers and physicians to negotiate fair reimbursement rates for the care provided. But most importantly, patients are held harmless and kept out of the middle. IDR is already working in states like New York and Texas, and several physicians in Congress have put forward bipartisan draft legislation that establishes IDR as the national standard. It is easy to imagine how government rate-setting would lead to physician shortages and hospital closures, particularly in vulnerable rural communities like many in Arkansas, all while protecting the profits of insurance companies. I encourage Congress to take the right step and support legislation rooted in the IDR model. By doing so, we are protecting patients, frontline doctors and hospitals, and ensuring that all Americans have access to healthcare when they need it. Senator Keith Ingram represents District 24, which includes Crittenden County and parts of Cross, Lee, Phillips and St. Francis Counties. He can be reached at 870-735-8610.
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