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Public Citizen and Allies Demand an End to Devastating Surprise Billing

Statement of Eagan Kemp, Health Care Policy Advocate, Public Citizen

Note: Today, Public Citizen along with 13 organizations launched “No Surprises: People Against Unfair Medical Bills”— a new coalition that demands Congress enact legislation to end surprise medical billing, which is generated when out-of-network care is given to a patient who is unaware or unable to determine whether their medical professional is in their insurance network. While Public Citizen and the coalition support key principles already incorporated into pending congressional legislation to ban surprise billing, Public Citizen believes that Medicare for All is the best way to ensure this practice ends once and for all.

Imagine going to the emergency room after a car crash, receiving lifesaving care and only later learning that one of your doctors was not covered by your insurance. While recuperating at home, out of work and in pain, you face a six-figure medical bill.

This unethical practice of surprise billing happens to one in six people every year.

The launch of this diverse coalition will help infuse the fight against surprise medical bills with the voices of patients, advocates and corporate accountability champions.

Congress is poised to pass historic legislation that would end the worst surprise billing abuses, especially those undertaken by for-profit corporations looking for any way to make a buck despite the suffering it causes. But it’s not surprising these very same corporations are trying to destroy significant reform by swamping Congress with lobbyists and the American people with misleading ads meant to confuse the issue. The time for reform is long past overdue and Congress must act.

Recent statistics highlight just pervasive this problem is:

  • Nearly 70% of respondents who experienced surprise bills that they were unable to pay did not know that the health care provider was considered out-of-network when they received care.
  • While fewer than 10% of Americans used out-of-network care, around 40% of those claims for out-of-network care involved surprise billing. This was particularly common for emergency care.
  • Surprise bills are one of the key reasons more than one in four Americans had a medical bill turned over to a debt collection agency.
  • Nearly 60% of Americans who were contacted about debt collection were contacted due to outstanding medical debt, the most common reason for debt collection calls in the U.S.

While immediate congressional action on surprise billing must move forward Medicare for All, would resolve these fears and put an end to medical debt and bankruptcy. It would be a significant improvement for those with insurance to no longer be unexpectedly charged out-of-network costs, but we also need to think about the people who have no insurance. All Americans finally could focus on getting the treatment they need without worrying about whether unexpected medical bills will mean financial ruin.