June 12, 2020
Washington, D.C. – One year ago today – as part of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s ongoing effort to end surprise medical bills – members of the Health Subcommittee heard a powerful story that detailed the real-world impact surprise bills have on American families. Sonji Wilkes, one of the witnesses in that hearing, shared the story of how her family received a jaw-dropping surprise medical bill of $50,000 after her newborn son received treatment at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Although Wilkes had insurance and the hospital where she gave birth was in-network, the NICU had been contracted out.
“Why would I check if the NICU just 50 steps away from the room that I gave birth in was in-network? I think any reasonable person would assume it to be because it seems reckless and cruel that it would not be,” said Wilkes at the subcommittee hearing.
Stories like the one shared by the Wilkes family are far too common. Although this is not a problem that Congress created, E&C GOP Leader Greg Walden (R-OR) and Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) set out to fix it. About a month before the hearing, Walden and Pallone released a statement that they were “…committed to working together on bipartisan legislation that protects patients and families from surprise medical bills and the crippling financial debt that comes with them.” The following week they released a draft bipartisan bill to do just that. Vox called it, “…the most robust proposal yet.”
The bipartisan No Surprises Act unanimously passed the full committee a month after the hearing and was ready for the House floor. Unfortunately, no further action has been taken on the bill.
Walden and Pallone have pressed ahead, launching a bipartisan investigation into the root causes of surprise billing. On September 16th, they sent letters to private equity firms requesting information.
“We are concerned about the increasing role that private equity firms appear to be playing in physician staffing in our nation’s hospitals, and the potential impact these firms are having on our rising health care costs,” Walden and Pallone wrote in the letters.