Skip to content
The Editors

Congress Can Act Now to Stop Surprise Medical Bills

Many health-care questions are difficult and divisive. This one shouldn’t be.

How much will this ride cost?

How much will this ride cost?

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

While most of Washington was on vacation in August, lobbyists for doctors were busy placing ads attacking the recent effort in Congress to end “surprise medical bills” — the practice of slapping unsuspecting patients with huge out-of-pocket charges they couldn’t see coming. The blitz might be working. Before the summer recess, committees in each chamber had approved bipartisan bills to address the problem. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is silent on whether he’ll bring the legislation to a vote, and it seems this necessary reform might not happen after all.

Many health-care questions are complicated and controversial, and reasonable people can disagree on what’s best. This isn’t one of those questions. Many emergency-room doctors deliberately stay out-of-network so they can charge sky-high prices. Patients get whacked after the fact, discovering that even though their hospital was in-network, their treatment wasn’t. In 2017, the practice is estimated to have affected charges for 18 percent of emergency visits covered by large-employer insurance plans. And it isn’t confined to emergency-room visits. Sometimes in-network hospitals use out-of-network doctors for non-emergency treatments and pass on the higher costs to their unsuspecting patients. It’s indefensible and should be stopped.