Wouldn’t it be nice if health insurance companies pitched in to fight the coronavirus?
President Donald Trump has rallied the full force of the federal government to respond to the unfolding pandemic, hand-in-hand with state and local authorities. Businesses, schools and even sports leagues have taken the initiative to shut down to prevent spread of the disease. All at an excruciatingly painful economic cost.
I have made the case that panicking only helps the president’s political opponents use this pandemic as a political weapon, and that’s still true. But it’s also understandable that Americans are concerned about their health and what will happen if they need to get treated for the virus.
Insurance companies will have another unwelcome surprise for patients who get sick: they will not stop the practice of surprise medical bills. Insurers are responsible for these bills. They happen when they refuse to pay for out-of-network care or otherwise price gouge the patient.
Insurance executives made a big show out of coming to the White House to talk about the coronavirus response. They met with President Trump and Vice President Pence and portrayed themselves as the good guys in the face of a national crisis. Not long after, President Trump addressed the nation about the admirable and truly game-changing commitments made by the nation’s top health insurance CEOs.
Not so fast.
Almost immediately, insurance companies made it clear that their publicity stunt at the White House was all for show as they walked back their commitments. America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry group representing big insurance companies, announced, “We haven’t agreed to waive out-of-pocket costs for treatment” of COVID-19, but co-pays for tests.
Translation? If you get sick from the coronavirus and have to go out of your insurance network to get treated, too bad. Insurance companies will extract every dollar from you they possibly can.
That’s bad news for all of us because it will make the spread of the virus worse.
Why? It’s because people who get sick and actually need medical care might not get it because they’re worried about unexpected costs — especially if they just got furloughed or laid off from their job.
Instead of going to the hospital, they stay home, afraid of incurring unexpected bills from their insurance providers. No co-pay waivers for treatment means more surprise bills, more mounting expenses and more people getting sick by the day. If big insurers cared about fighting the pandemic instead of protecting their balance sheets, they would have committed to no surprise medical bills for all coronavirus patients without a federal law.
Under normal circumstances, allowing Americans to navigate their medical decisions is perfectly fine. These are not normal circumstances. Most Americans are still trying to figure out where to get tested and treated for the virus if they get it, let alone if that treatment is “in-network.”
Sadly, this is nothing new. These are the same companies that helped write, and then got bailed out by Obamacare, went through massive consolidation and watched their profits soar. All while co-pays, deductibles and out-of-pocket limits skyrocketed for the people who pay for their plans.
Insurance companies have shown us for a long time that they don’t care about actually stopping surprise medical bills — not during the coronavirus crisis or any other time. Congress has been working on an answer to surprise medical bills, and I’ve written before about the inherent conflict of interest in a bill “designed” to help patients but championed by insurance companies.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the coronavirus pandemic is just another opportunity for big insurance companies to maximize their profits. Now as part of the coronavirus relief package Republican Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander and Democratic New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone are trying to push through federal “price-fixing” provision for all out-of-network medical costs, a provision favored by insurance providers but opposed by actual medical providers.
Of course the insurance industry would endorse a bill that would be a huge financial boon for them! Never mind it would simultaneously penalize doctors and hospitals while putting many out of business and making it more difficult for patients to get the care they need.
We all want to bring an end to surprise billing, but not like this, and not when our courageous healthcare providers are already making so many sacrifices on our behalf.
As President Trump made clear as he addresses the country about the response to the coronavirus, we’re all in this together and we’re all sacrificing financially to get through this time.
All of us, it seems, except the insurance companies.
Charlie Kirk is the author of The New York Times bestseller The MAGA Doctrine: The Only Ideas That Will Win the Future and host of The Charlie Kirk Show.