Poll: Majority of Americans want laws protecting them from surprise medical bills

Poll: Majority of Americans want laws protecting them from surprise medical bills
© iStock

Three-quarters of the public — including a majority of Republicans — think the federal government should protect patients from having to cover surprise medical bills, according to a new poll released Wednesday.

A surprise bill usually occurs after a patient visits a hospital that is inside their insurer’s network, but received treatment from an out-of-network doctor, or the patient was taken by ambulance to an out-of-network emergency room.  

The poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows the broad bipartisan support for Congress to address surprise billing. Respondents said surprise billing was one of the top three health care priorities Congress should tackle. 

Lawmakers in both parties and industry groups largely agree that patients should be protected from getting massive, unexpected medical bills, and President TrumpDonald TrumpStowaway found in landing gear of plane after flight from Guatemala to Miami Kushner looking to Middle East for investors in new firm: report GOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips MORE has said he wants to make the issue a priority this year.

According to the poll, 78 percent of respondents want the government to take action on surprise billing.

More Democrats and independents than Republicans said the federal government should take action in specific circumstances, but a majority of Republicans still wanted the government to step in on the issue.

The debate is over how to determine how much the insurer will pay to the doctor or hospital; all parties have been lobbying Congress to avoid being the ones who take a financial hit in any upcoming legislation.

According to the poll, 43 percent of respondents said the insurance company alone should cover the cost, and 47 percent said the insurance company and the doctor or provider should share in covering the cost.

Only 5 percent of respondents said the doctor or provider should solely be responsible for the cost of the care.

Kaiser polled 1,203 adults by phone, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Surprise billing, however, was not the No. 1 health care priority for those polled.

The poll found 68 percent of those surveyed think lowering drug prices should be the top priority, while 64 percent said lawmakers should concentrate on protecting ObamaCare’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Half of all respondents said surprise billing was their top issue.

Fewer than one-third of total respondents said they felt Congress should prioritize repealing ObamaCare or implementing a national "Medicare for All" plan, or expanding government financial help for those who buy their own coverage on the exchanges.

But broken down by party, about half of Republicans said repealing and replacing ObamaCare is a top priority, while 47 percent of Democrats said Medicare for All should be a top priority.