‘A lot of money on the table’: Fight brews over surprise medical bills

“The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, protects patients from receiving expensive bills for unexpected out-of-network care but doctors, hospitals and insurers are still at odds over which factors an independent arbitrator should rely on to decide who picks up the tab.

The outcome could swing billions of dollars in payments, significantly influence how doctors and hospitals negotiate prices with insurers and possibly affect premiums for millions of Americans.

“This is probably one of the most significant overhauls in the health system since the [Affordable Care Act] ACA,” said a spokesperson for the Coalition Against Surprise Medical Billing, which represents insurers, employer and union groups, and works with patient groups. “We certainly don’t see any end in sight in terms of the battle in making sure that these regs are implemented.”

The coalition supports the Biden administration’s interim final rule that instructs arbitrators to rely primarily on a single factor — the median in-network rate in a geographic area — when settling disputes between providers and payers. It has sponsored multiple six-figure digital ad-buys, including one that runs through Christmas, urging regulators to stay the course.”

“Hospitals and doctors allege the Biden administration’s decision to emphasize the median in-network rate, a figure the insurance companies calculate, gives large insurers a huge advantage when negotiating how much a service should cost.

Insurers would have an incentive to keep the in-network rates lower to avoid paying more to out-of-network doctors. And they say payers would know doctors and hospitals have little recourse if they choose to remain outside an insurer’s network.

“Being out of network is really the physicians’ only control over how their contracts look,” said Randall Clark, the president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. “If the insurance companies can treat us the same whether we’re in network or out of network, there is no impetus on the part of the insurance companies to negotiate fair contracts.”

Trade groups representing providers say the law lists several other factors that should be equally weighted when calculating how much a service costs, such as the doctor’s experience and the complexity of the procedure. While these metrics can still be introduced during the dispute resolution process, the Biden administration’s rules don’t give them as much weight as the median in-network rate metric, which providers say puts them at a disadvantage before the process even begins.”

Amy Klobuchar and Tom Cotton’s Big Tech Anti-Monopoly Bill Exempts Their Preferred Firms

“Note, however, the bill stipulates that it only covers firms that are over the $600 billion line “as of the date of enactment.” In other words, if a company has a market cap under $600 billion on the day the bill becomes law, then that company is permanently exempt—even if it later crosses the threshold.

Two companies that are currently under the $600 billion line and thus exempt from the bill are mega-retailers Target and Walmart. These companies are both worth hundreds of billions of dollars, and their e-commerce platforms are growing at a faster rate than Amazon’s. But under the Klobuchar/Cotton law, it wouldn’t matter if Target and Walmart overtake Amazon—they would be immune from this new antitrust action, as long as they are small enough on the day the bill is signed.

Readers may be interested to note that Target is headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Walmart is headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas. Isn’t that interesting? It’s probably just a coincidence that the $600-billion-at-date-of-enactment provision would shield the two most important companies in Klobuchar and Cotton’s home states.”

Trump called on Congress to pass a drug prices bill. Democrats reminded him they already did.

“The House bill — H.R.3 — has a few mechanisms for reducing prescription drug prices, but most notably, it would allow the US health department to directly negotiate the prices it will pay for up to 250 drugs every year. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated the bill would save Medicare up to $450 billion over 10 years because of those new negotiating powers. CBO has also projected about eight fewer drugs (out of an expected 300 over 10 years) would come to the market in the next decade because of the decrease in revenues for drug makers.

Despite Trump’s promises on the 2016 campaign trail that he would support proposals allowing Medicare drug negotiations, the White House threatened to veto the House plan. They called it a plan to institute government “price controls,” and said it would limit access to medicine, a favored talking point of the pharmaceutical lobby.

Even without this veto threat, H.R.3 is expected to be dead-on-arrival in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has shown no interest in taking up the bill.”

“Instead, Trump has aligned himself more with Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who has advanced a narrower set of reforms from his perch as the Senate Finance Committee chair. (Grassley has also accused McConnell of sabotaging his bill, which moved out of Grassley’s committee with bipartisan support.)

His committee sent a bill to the full Senate in the fall, though it has languished there in the months since. It’s unclear if Trump’s quasi-endorsement — he did not call out Grassley’s bill directly Tuesday night, instead praising the senator generally for his individual work on the issue — will provide any new momentum for the plan. Grassley’s bill, as the Brookings Institution documented, achieves pricing reform through a mix of technical changes to the rebates that drug makers pay under Medicare and Medicaid as well as provisions to cap out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors.

Right now, neither of the bills seems on a fast track to anywhere. Part of this is because Trump’s interest in drug pricing has been scattershot at best, and many Republicans are reluctant to place too many new regulations on an innovation industry.”