America’s healthcare system remains in crisis. We hear stories of seniors cutting prescription pills in half to save money. We hear stories of family members and caregivers up late at the kitchen table, afraid of the future, feeling desperate and helpless as the bills keep piling up. We even hear stories of people putting off important medical appointments and procedures, and people dying as a result – all because the cost of healthcare is too high.
This needs to change.
As chairman of the South Carolina Advisory Council on Aging, I meet often with regular people to hear out their needs, their hopes, and their fears. Unfortunately, what I keep hearing more and more often is the same story, over and over again: people being forced to make heartbreaking compromises because they don’t have access to affordable healthcare.
Back in June, President Trump helped make a solid first step in that direction when he issued an executive order that aimed to improve price and quality transparency. “We should also require drug companies, insurance companies and hospitals to disclose real prices to foster competition and bring down costs,” the president wrote, before adding in his characteristic style: “You will get great pricing. Prices will come down by numbers that you wouldn’t believe. The cost of healthcare will go way, way down.”
Critics of the president have of course pushed back against the order, with some even going so far as to claim that publicly disclosing rates could actually make prices higher for consumers. I, for one, commend President Trump’s order. I’ve seen what happens when patients don’t have access to prices, choices, or even an ability to see quality standards. So any move on the President’s part that puts patients more in the driver’s seat, empowering them with knowledge and information, is nothing but positive.
Still, more work needs to be done.
Right off the bat, let’s recognize that this was only an executive order, not a change in law or regulations. The order certainly does a lot right, especially in the way it provides a step-by-step timeline of when new changes will be implemented, as well as how different stakeholders – insurers, hospitals, and patients – will be affected. But greater reform is still needed, and to do that, we can’t just rely on the President’s limited power via executive order. We need comprehensive fixes to comprehensive problems, otherwise those sad stories of families struggling with healthcare access and bills will only continue.
One such fix would be Congress ending “surprise billing” by insurers – who often deny claims retroactively and open patients to gigantic medical bills, simply because they had the bad luck of picking (or having a wreck too close to) an “out of network” hospital. Any insured patient’s financial responsibility should be limited to his or her in-network cost-sharing rate. Cost disagreements in these situations should be resolved in an independent dispute resolution process that brings hospitals, doctors, and insurers together, and not by sending the patient a bill that will bankrupt them.
Healthcare is vital to each and every one of us. Poll after poll shows us that healthcare is the single most important issue on voters’ minds, regardless of what political party they support. Concerns over pre-existing conditions, affordable rates, surprise bills and especially long-term care with our increasing population of aging Americans: these might be framed as national political problems in the media, but in truth it is the local community that feels the greatest impact.
As a small business owner, I’ve also seen firsthand the growing costs year-after-year associated with providing quality healthcare options for my employees. We’ve had to work hard to keep benefits available, but it hasn’t always been easy. Still, the last thing I want to hear is that one of my employees was forced to make a healthcare decision based on insurance requirements and demands, rather than one based on what is best for their health.
America cannot keep kicking this can down the road. We have to work toward a new, improved, and comprehensive healthcare system that keeps patients in control of their own needs, desires, and goals. The president’s recent executive order is not a perfect fix, but it does move us forward, bringing us closer to fixing an out-of-date system. America has faced tough challenges before. I don’t doubt we can face this one too. But if we are to succeed, we need to get to work with all stakeholders having a seat at the table.