Poll reveals Americans want federal protections from surprise medical bills

On Wednesday, a poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that a majority of Americans want federal government protections against surprise medical bills.

Surprise medical billing occurs most often when an individual is transported to an emergency room by an out-of-network ambulance, when an emergency room is outside of an individual’s insurance network, or when an out-of-network specialist treats them at an in-network hospital.

Insurance companies prohibit in-network doctors from overcharging what the insurance company agreed to. The relationship between out-of-network providers and insurance companies is unconstrained from overcharging for medical services. So, oftentimes, the bill is triple what the insurance company has agreed to pay.

These medical bills come as a surprise to patients, because it is not explicitly known that they are receiving care from, or being transported to, an out-of-network provider.

The poll revealed that one in 10 Americans under the age of 65 have either personally received, or have had a family member receive, a surprise medical bill within the last two years. Half of these respondents said that this was a direct result of out-of-network care.

“Receiving an unexpected bill, and the shock, distress and anxiety that it can cause….undermine a patient’s recovery and road back to good health,” said Texas Hospital Association President and CEO Ted Shaw in a press release.

While some states, like Utah, Washington and Texas have taken steps this legislative session to protect consumers from surprise medical bills, millions of Americans do not have the same protections. Often, individuals who are covered under their employer’s insurance plans do not have the same protections against these medical bills as other Americans who do not have the same coverage.

But, Americans across the country are demanding additional protections as the increase in state level legislation demonstrates.

The Kaiser poll demonstrated that 76% of Americans want additional federal government protections against surprise billing. Results varied by party affiliation:Eighty-eight percent of Democrats responded in support for federal protections, and 62% of Republicans demonstrated support.

In February, President Donald Trump directed members of his Cabinet to research how to reduce the impacts of surprise billing. This push was part of his focus on price transparency, and lowering pharmaceutical costs. The approach to surprise billing legislation attempts to build upon research conducted during previous administrations.

“The pricing is hurting patients, and we’ve stopped a lot of it, but we’re going to stop all of it,” President Trump said during a round-table discussion with reporters.

 

*The poll was conducted from April 11-16 among 1,203 individuals, and the margin of error is +/- 3 percentage points.

*The poll was conducted via telephone call in all fifty states

*Only adults 18 and older were called

 

While respondents agreed that Congress should take action, they were divided over who should cover these additional costs. Forty-three percent believed that insurance companies should cover these charges, while 47% claimed that doctors and providers should.

“Lawmakers should protect patients by prohibiting surprise billing,” said Shaw. “They should also take care not to unintentionally create new problems by driving up health care costs. At a time when annual increases in health care premiums are in the double digits and outpace inflation and wage growth, lawmakers should not impose additional costs on consumers.”

When asked where protections against surprise medical billings falls in the nation’s overall health care priorities, results were mixed. Sixty-four percent of respondents state that protecting the Affordable Care Act’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions was top priority, 68% claimed that lowering the cost of prescription drugs should be the national focus, and less than a third of people declared Medicaid-for-all to be the top focus. Addressing surprise medical billing came in at 50%, third on Americans’ list of healthcare priorities.

You can read the entire poll, here.