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Group launches ads opposing bipartisan fix to 'surprise' medical bills

A fiscally conservative group is putting six figures behind new digital ads aimed at sinking a measure to ban the “surprise” medical bills patients get from hospitals and services that aren’t covered by insurance.

The Taxpayers Protection Alliance will launch a new ad on Wednesday accusing big insurance companies of trying to push a bill through the lame duck Congress that aims to ban surprise medical bills through “benchmarking,” which sets prices based on the average for a provided service.

The TPA and other fiscally conservative groups say the legislation is tantamount to “rate-setting” or “price controls” that give the government too much power. They’ve likened it to "Medicare for all."

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“A few lawmakers claim to have a deal to end surprise medical billing,” the ad states. “There’s just one problem. It isn’t really a deal. It’s a handout to the big insurance companies that would leave our front line doctors out in the cold. Big insurance companies claim they’re helping patients but they’re really just lining their own pockets as usual. Tell Congress a pandemic isn’t the time to give big insurance the big handout it’s been lobbying for. Stand with our front line doctors instead.”

Patients sometimes receive surprise bills when they go to an in-network hospital or emergency room but are treated by an out-of-network doctor.

Insurers back a bipartisan proposal supported by the top Democrats and Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate HELP Committee that would ban providers from sending surprise bills and instead require insurers to pay the benchmarked costs.

Right-leaning groups, such as Club for Growth and FreedomWorks, oppose the measure, believing the government should not be involved in setting prices. The groups are cautiously supportive of proposed alternative measures to end surprise billing, such as having an independent arbiter determine how much an insurer would pay.

Hospitals, insurers, doctors and private equity groups are all involved in the debate over the legislation, agreeing that surprise medical bills need to be addressed but disagreeing over who should bear the brunt of the cost.

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There are negotiations in Congress now about a potential compromise bill, as lawmakers feel an urgency to address the needs of consumers receiving crushing medical bills during the coronavirus pandemic.

The TPA and conservative groups don’t want anything passed in the lame duck that includes benchmarking.

“Big insurance companies continue to push for rate setting price controls and are now using the lame duck session in Congress to try to pass legislation that would hurt patients and doctors during a global pandemic.” said TPA president David Williams. “Any legislation containing rate setting is a giveaway to insurance companies and should be rejected by every member of Congress. Congress must instead move forward with a fair and proven solution that protects patients and doctors instead of big insurers. The COVID-19 pandemic is not the time to pass a law that makes it harder for sick patients to get the care they need.”