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In this time of uncertainty, everyone is doing their best to prepare for the unknown future we are currently facing.

COVID-19, or the coronavirus, is in full force here in our state and the last thing Arkansans should be worrying about is getting the care and treatment they or their loved ones might need. Patients should have the comfort of knowing that if they get sick, they will be able to find a doctor and have their insurance pay for the care they need. So why are insurance companies wanting to exacerbate fears by using rate setting as a response to surprise medical bills that can be sprung on patients after receiving necessary testing and treatment?

As a public official, I have seen too many cases of these surprise medical bills affecting my constituents. Every year, families in our community are stuck with medical bills they couldn't plan for and don't know how they will afford to pay. Big insurance companies say that they'll fix surprise medical billing, but the truth is they only have the best interest of their pocketbooks, not our community, in mind.

Lobbyists for the insurance providers are currently exhausting countless resources to convince Congress to let insurance companies set their own reimbursement rates. This move would be catastrophic for doctors, hospitals, and patients. Doctors and hospitals would be excessively lowballed for their medical work expenses, forcing them to close their practices. When these practice closures hit, thousands of patients across Arkansas would lose access to health care. We can't allow the insurance industry's proposed rate setting to pass, especially with a global pandemic looming on the horizon. This is why I'm calling on Congress to end surprise medical billing by supporting Independent Dispute Resolution, or IDR.

Independent Dispute Resolution is the best remedy for surprise medical billing. IDR uses an independent arbitration system to remove patients from the billing dispute. Through the negotiation process, doctors and insurers work out any issues with payment via an independent mediator. This system is already in place in several states and has been proven to be successful. Doctors and caregivers are on the front lines every day protecting our most vulnerable and putting themselves at risk in order to treat patients. They must have fair rates from the insurance companies in order to keep our communities safe and healthy.

This is an issue that needs to be addressed now. As the coronavirus continues to unfold, one of the country's largest insurance companies just canceled its contracts with doctors in Washington State, a hotbed of coronavirus activity, for simply trying to negotiate a fair reimbursement rate for themselves. This preemptive strike by the insurance companies was intended to maximize their financial gain in the event that rate-setting becomes law. If Congress passes self-interest designed "rate-setting" proposals, health insurers will be able to set their own reimbursement rates, doctors will be forced to choose between staying open and making a profit, and patients will lose access to health care.

As each day brings more news of people across the country understandably worried about their health, it pains me to see families in my community agonizing over circumstances that are beyond their control. Putting an end to surprise medical bills is the best solution to help patients and protect the free market. I hope Congress will protect the people of Arkansas by supporting Independent Dispute Resolution.

State Sen. Bill Sample represents District 14, which includes Garland and Saline counties.

Editorial on 03/26/2020

Print Headline: Capitalizing off crisis instead of putting patients first

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