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Stalled COVID-19 package may allow Republicans to flip health care in their favor

Backing new price transparency bill is a no-brainer for vulnerable GOP candidates

Six in 10 voters want to see health care price transparency legislation introduced by Indiana Sen. Mike Braun enacted along with the next coronavirus stimulus package, McLaughlin and Kochel write.
Six in 10 voters want to see health care price transparency legislation introduced by Indiana Sen. Mike Braun enacted along with the next coronavirus stimulus package, McLaughlin and Kochel write. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

During the 2018 midterm elections, incumbent Republicans learned the hard way that it’s not enough to simply campaign against something. Rather, it’s equally important to campaign in favor of something. Republican calls to “Replace Obamacare,” for example, were drowned out by louder demands to “Repeal Obamacare.”  

Constituents frustrated at the prospect of not knowing what their health care would look like that year voted 4-to-1 in favor of Democratic challengers. As Politico reported, a plurality of voters at the time “cited health care as the most important issue facing the country” and “among ‘health care’ voters, 75 percent voted Democratic and 23 percent went Republican.” 

If Republicans are serious about winning in November, they have the opportunity right now to “accomplish” simple health care reform that has overwhelming bipartisan support among voters at no cost to the taxpayer: delivering a functional, competitive marketplace in health care based on free-market principles. In the next COVID-19 stimulus package, they can pass into law the Health Care PRICE Transparency Act, which would require hospitals, insurance companies and health care providers to disclose hidden prices and secret negotiated rates ahead of nonemergency procedures, like diagnostic testing and elective surgeries.  

The legislation — introduced by Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and co-sponsored by seven other senators — would put patients in the driver’s seat instead of letting hospitals and insurance companies run roughshod over vulnerable consumers; serve as a low-cost solution to our health care woes; and encourage suffering Americans to seek the medical care they need rather than postpone treatment for lack of financial resources.   

Patients are often hit with outrageous medical bills and spend months or years paying off devastating medical debt or spend precious time contesting a bill. Many who sought diagnostic testing for COVID-19, for example, were under the impression testing would be free, only to later find surprise charges in the thousands of dollars tacked on to their medical bill.  

Alex Goodman, a NASA employee, visited a Colorado emergency room in April when he had difficulty breathing. He was tested for COVID-19 and later received a surprise bill from his insurance company. “It said that my total was a bit over $3,000 or so,” he told CBS News. “That was the amount that I was going to have to pay.” 

This legislation would help combat these unforeseen expenses and alleviate Americans’ financial concerns at a time when millions of Americans are unemployed and still reeling from an economy ravaged by COVID-19 and related closures. As Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says, “Americans have the right to know what a health care service is going to cost before they receive it.” 

Furthermore, the legislation doesn’t come with a hefty price tag. It is a reform that will equal the playing field by informing and empowering American consumers to be in control of their health care decisions. It will cause the health care industry to operate much the same way as every other industry in our economy. 

In what grocery store, after all, can you not get a price check and choose to go elsewhere for produce? What major retailers don’t have price-match guarantees and what car dealerships don’t have price tags on their vehicles’ windows?  

No longer will medical providers and insurance companies have an unfair advantage in the marketplace or the opportunity to price gouge and nickel-and-dime vulnerable patients. 

Consumers, furthermore, would more likely seek medical treatment knowing they won’t have to fight surprise charges or be on the hook for out-of-network fees they weren’t aware of before a scheduled procedure. 

The issue is one that garners overwhelming public support, and it polls favorably in key battleground states that will determine the majority in the Senate, including Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Montana and North Carolina.  

Consistently, a whopping 90 percent of voters agree that organizations involved in health care should reveal their pricing for various procedures and allow patients to make informed decisions about which medical providers to use. And with millennials, especially millennial women, 98 percent under 40 want health care price transparency from hospitals and insurance companies systemwide. 

Six out of 10 voters, moreover, want to see the legislation enacted along with the next stimulus package, and two-thirds of voters in swing states say they’re more likely to vote for a Senate candidate who believes in passing the price transparency bill in tandem with the next stimulus package. 

Backing the bill is a no-brainer for senators in vulnerable swing states, and could be the silver bullet that puts Republicans over the top in November. It’s an opportunity they shouldn’t sit on and one they should, instead, use to their utmost advantage. 

As Karl Rove, a longtime political consultant, wrote last year, “Unless Republicans make their case confidently and forcefully, the health-care issue could cost them victory in 2020.” 

John McLaughlin is the CEO of McLaughlin and Associates and has worked professionally as a strategic consultant and pollster for over 35 years.

David Kochel is the former executive director of the Republican Party of Iowa and a longtime political consultant.

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