Where do Democrats stand on health care price transparency?

COVID-19 has exacerbated the Achilles’ heel of our health care system: medical billing. Surprise charges abound in the wake of diagnostic testing, a problem President Trump is seeking to fix with a recent executive order that Republican lawmakers are endeavoring to codify, and a health care plan that puts transparency at the forefront of the conversation. 

“By improving transparency, we can increase competition, empower patients, and ultimately lower health care costs. I’m glad to join my colleagues in support of this bill which is a critical step toward achieving these important goals,” Sen. Jon Ernst, Iowa Republican, one of 11 sponsoring the bill, said in a statement.

The legislation, titled “The Health Care PRICE Transparency Act,” would require hospitals and medical providers to advertise the cost of their services, as well as negotiated third-party rates, ahead of treatment. The issue has widespread support, especially among women and Democrats, yet liberal lawmakers are pushing back against the bill despite promises to the contrary. 

On his campaign website, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden says, “Democrats believe that when Americans are in the hospital or an emergency room, they shouldn’t have to worry about whether their health care providers are in-network or not, which is why we will outlaw the predatory practice of surprise medical billing.”

At every turn, however, activist judges are challenging the president’s executive order on health care price transparency, and Democrats are failing to rally behind a would-be bipartisan bill that promises only to have an electoral upside for them. Why?  

Instead, they’re doubling-down on Obamacare, a disaster that failed to deliver high-quality health care for the American people, leaving patients with limited choice and prices that makes care unaffordable. Under Obamacare, health care coverage costs have soared, making care less affordable for those who need it. Premiums on the individual market more than doubled from 2013 to 2017. 

Meanwhile, liberals have been quiet publicly on health care price transparency even though there is no logical reason to be against a policy that will actually lower costs and protect Americans from price gouging 

According to a recent survey by McLaughlin & Associates for Patient Rights Advocate, 88% of voters believe medical-service providers should be upfront about their costs, 82% of voters believe transparency will lead to lower costs and 66% of voters believe special-interest groups fighting Mr. Trump’s executive order should drop their lawsuits. 

Sixty percent of voters believe price transparency should be passed without delay, and 78% of voters are more likely to support a Senate candidate who backed including health care transparency in the last COVID-19 relief package.

Republicans, Democrats, women, and minorities, moreover, care deeply about this issue. A whopping 90% of Democrats, for example, believe all those involved in administering healthcare should disclose their prices; among Republicans, that number is 85%.

Ninety-eight percent of female voters under 40, furthermore, believe all those involved in medical pricing should disclose their costs, while an astonishing 95% of all voters under 40 believe the same. What’s more, 89% and 86% of Hispanic and African American voters, respectively, believe companies should publish in advance the cost of their medical services.

Even when patients are careful, there are serious problems with our current system. Parents are careful to make sure they go to an in-network hospital for the birth of their baby, only to later find, in some cases, that the labor-and-delivery doctor who performed an emergency C-section was out-of-network and, therefore, his services not entirely covered by insurance.

Take Leah Libresco Sargeant, a prolific cultural commentary writer, who, for example, received a series of surprise medical bills after complications arose during the birth of her daughter, Beatrice.

“I will believe health care is a market subject to consumer pressures when I’m quoted prices in advance and my bills don’t look like this,” she said, tweeting an image of a non-itemized bill totaling more than $106,000.

“Is my baby a beloved child of God and of infinite worth? Yes,” she added. “Is this bill ridiculous? Also, yes.” When people are unable to price their care in advance or plan for worse-case scenarios, those in life-threatening medical situations are exploited.

Women are acutely aware of this unfair reality and, if the recent Patient Rights Advocate survey is any indication, health care price transparency is a winning issue that appeals across the political divide and will only serve to bolster the popularity of those lawmakers who support it.  

Republicans are fighting for the American people. Now it’s time for more Democrats to get aboard and go on the record in support of the executive order — and health care price transparency legislation, too. 

• Jenny Beth Martin is president of Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund.

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