It’s a sign of the divisive times: even the American business community is throwing its own under the Congressional bus. In a letter to the Senate HELP committee, a broad coalition of employers, including the National Restaurant Association, Auto Care Association, and the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, is calling on Congress to impose price controls on others that they would not tolerate being placed on themselves.
Yes, even the “Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council,” is joining this coalition, whose arcane name is a throwback to 1970s era overregulation—ERIC, the ERISA Industry Committee—to ask for legislation that is anything but entrepreneurial.
These businesses are part of the growing chorus asking Congress to “do something” to address “surprise” medical bills. But instead of focusing on the root causes of the problem, ERIC, and others are demanding heavy handed price controls that will harm the physicians who render life saving medical care — often small businesses themselves.
And putting the squeeze on physicians with government set fees, that may not even cover costs bloated by complying with a sea of federal regulation, ultimately harms patients’ ability to obtain high-quality, timely care in situations where care is most needed.
Let’s take a closer look at the real cause of the problem, and solutions that will put patients in the driver’s seat instead of putting their access to care on the hot seat.
“Surprise, your insurance plan is not going to cover the care you received,” is another way to describe the situation. Of course, insurers want to limit their costs, as any business would, and those who provide care want to be paid well for their services.
But how much should emergency medical care cost? In a functioning marketplace prices are determined through an immeasurable number of mutually beneficial transactions between customers and producers, not by federal fiat.
But American medicine is anything put a healthy market.
The fact that ERIC is demanding price controls points to a big reason this is the case. Employers are stuck between employees and their medical care thanks to the downstream consequences of wage controls in WWII that spawned tax-deductible employer-funded health benefits. D-Day was 75 years ago, and while Europe was freed, flawed government economic decisions from the War are still trapping Americans “in-network” with soaring medical prices, deductibles, and co-payments, not to mention premiums.
Because employers and other third parties are often in charge of paying the bill and negotiating costs, patients have lost their leverage and pricing becomes untethered from the marketplace mechanisms that, for instance, have put not just a chicken in every pot, but supercomputers in the pockets of virtually every American over age 13, and a car (or two) in nearly every garage.
It’s time to begin extracting the employer from the health care equation. ERIC and its members can be freed from the burden of overseeing and paying for their employees’ care. Employers don’t like shouldering this responsibility and employees shouldn’t want their employer interfering in the exam room or operating suite. And, sorry Berniacs, Medicare for All is not the right way to go about winding down employer-based coverage.
One answer is to give patients better options to become independent of their employer for their care, like through expanding Health Savings Accounts with the flexibility to be used to buy catastrophic coverage or pay Direct Primary Care (DPC) arrangements.
Another more long term goal, but one in line with the American spirit of freedom and individualism is to end the $280 billion tax exclusion for employer-based insurance benefits altogether. Increase wages and salaries proportionately and cut taxes across the board. Employees can then decide for themselves how to spend their hard earned dollars, whether on insurance, directly on care, or however they choose.
This would be a win-win-win, for employers, employees, and all patients. A re-energized marketplace will unleash more competition and more facilities and practices emulating the likes of the Surgery Center of Oklahoma (knee-replacements can be 50% less than through “coverage”) , Atlas MD (unlimited primary care for $50/month, $2 lab tests, and wholesale cost prescriptions), and Green Imaging (home of the $250 MRI) where direct-to-patient pricing, that eschews insurance contracts, is a fraction of what “in-network” options charge for the same care. And yes, competition even works to lower the cost of emergency care, as demonstrated by lower-cost transparent physician-run ER and urgent care options already popping up in Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas, and elsewhere across the U.S.
So instead of a surprise bill, patients will be pleasantly surprised at how affordable and accessible high-quality medical care is even for emergencies, when they, not their employer, insurance CEO, Member of Congress, or government bureaucrat are the customer.
Action Item: Visit https://action.stoppricefixing.org/ and learn how to make an immediate difference in the fight to stop flawed legislation.