Legislation to combat surprise medical bills benefits greedy insurance companies, hurts the Black community
May 6, 2020
By: Jonathan Leath
(NJ.com) — During his April 7 press briefing, President Trump spoke on the drastic difference in COVID-19 cases for minorities in this country. At the same briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, responded to this situation by saying, “It’s very sad. It’s nothing we can do about it right now except to try and give them the best possible care to avoid those complications.”
While Black Americans make up only 14% of the population in New Jersey, they’re nearly 20% of the reported COVID-19 deaths. Upon hearing this announcement and these statistics, what pained me the most was that none of this came as a shock to me. Not only was the stark difference in case numbers and fatalities not surprising, neither was the government saying there is “nothing they can do about it.”
What gives me both hope and concern, though, is that New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone heads the House’s Energy and Commerce Committee. On April 15, Pallone wrote to Seema Verma, the head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), asking her to release demographic data, saying: “The implications of COVID-19 on racial and ethnic minority communities cannot be fully understood or addressed until more comprehensive information, like the vast Medicare billing data available to CMS, is analyzed and publicly released.”
While it seems like Congressman Pallone has our best interests at heart, he is currently doing more harm than good by supporting “surprise medical billing” legislation that mirrors a Republican effort to prop up Big Insurance profits.
Unfortunately, because of the sinful greed of insurance companies and flaws in our healthcare system, thousands of American patients receive unexpected bills that financially burden or even bankrupt them. Patients, doctors and first responders are hit with these massive costs when insurance companies refuse to cover and pay for certain emergency procedures. Heaven forbid insurance companies take a hit to their billions of dollars of profits.
And once again, racial minorities are experiencing the brunt of the issue, while the government scrambles to figure out a way to come to our aid. Black Americans still experience illnesses at higher rates, have higher death rates than white Americans and are more likely to have preexisting conditions that make us more vulnerable to these diseases and more likely to be put in a financial hole because of high medical costs.
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has said he would address the issue of access to health care and surprise medical billing, as has the Congressional Black Caucus. But it’s now time that we all band together and fight to change these terrible health disparities and protect each other from this crisis in care.
One of the scariest parts of the crisis of surprise medical billing is that Congress cannot seem to get the fix right, and now they are trying to lump in broken legislation with the coronavirus packages. The current legislation to stop surprise billing, known as the Lower Health Care Costs of 2019, would only serve to starve our communities of health care. If this legislation was passed, it would allow insurance companies, who are the real culprits behind the issue, to take payments from their policyholders, ration care and refuse to pay the full amount for services their policyholders required.
That means insurers, by refusing to cover certain care, will cause more hospitals and emergency ambulatory services to go out of business. Not to mention that vital services may even be ignored by some health care providers altogether. And guess where those health care services will shutter first? Black neighborhoods. Once again, our communities suffer disproportionate pain in service of higher corporate profits.
Democrats in Congress, including Congressman Pallone, need to step up and join the Congressional Black Caucus in defending American minorities and ensure that insurance companies do not profit from our hardships anymore. Though I’m sure Democrat leaders on the bill mean well, there are too many unintended consequences of this legislation to allow it to go through as it currently stands. I hope that our voices are heard and loud enough to make a difference before it is too late, and we see any more of our community suffer unnecessarily.
Original article published here on NJ.com.