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There's no clear way to fix surprise medical bills

Data: Brookings; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

Surprise medical bills may be Washington's favorite issue right now, but everyone has a different idea about how to address it.

Where it stands: A House committee, a group of senators and the White House are all on different pages.

  • Providers prefer using arbitration to settle payment disputes, but insurers want the government to create a federal payment standard.
  • Lawmakers, for now, are divided.
  • "This is now a fight between insurers, hospitals, and doctors. Of course, if this industry dispute can’t be mediated, then patients will be left out in the cold," the Kaiser Family Foundation's Larry Levitt said. 

Solving surprise billing isn't just about protecting the patients who receive those bills. It's also about addressing market distortions that drive up premiums.

  • Threatening to leave an insurer's network gives providers more leverage to negotiate higher rates, experts say, driving up costs across the board.
  • "The problem is that we've allowed these specialties to engage in behavior that has so distorted the market that correcting it is rather salient for those folks," the American Enterprise Institute's Ben Ippolito said.

Go deeper: Capitol Hill sees bipartisan momentum on surprise medical billing