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Voters Overwhelmingly Want Congress to End Surprise Billing

As Congress works to find an approach to curtail surprise billing, a new poll finds voters demand lawmakers take action to protect patients from expensive, unexpected medical bills. By a factor of 2 to 1, voters favor setting a payment benchmark based on in-network rates over arbitration.

A radiology technician looks at a chest X-ray of a child suffering from flu symptoms at Upson Regional Medical Center in Thomaston, Ga. A nasty flu season and fresh insurance deductibles can smack patients around the country with expensive medical bills. (Associated Press/David Goldman)

A large majority of registered voters across the political spectrum agree that federal lawmakers need to protect consumers from surprise medical bills, according to the results of a new national poll released today. 

Many Americans are on the hook for unexpected and often exorbitant bills for treatment rendered by out-of-network healthcare providers — who are often backed by private equity companies.

The new poll finds that nearly all (94 percent) of U.S. voters say Congress should take action to protect patients from those bills.

Congress should heed the demands of voters who want to see better protections in place to prevent these unacceptable billing practices that have harmed so many families across the United States,” said Mark Miller, Executive Vice President of Health Care for Arnold Ventures.

New Poll Shows Voters Demand Action on Surprise Billing

According to the poll, more than half of voters said they had either personally received a surprise medical bill or knew someone who did.

Conducted by a bipartisan team of political pollsters, Geoff Garin of Hart Research Associates and Whit Ayres of North Star Opinion Research, the poll surveyed 1,001 registered voters in October 2019

The poll revealed that the support for legislative action is so strong that voters are ready to hold their lawmakers accountable for failing to take action. Seven out of 10 voters surveyed said they would view their Congressional representative less favorably if they do not support legislation aimed at protecting them from surprise billing. 

Number of voters who said they had either personally received a surprise medical bill or knew someone who did
7 of 10
Number of voters who said they would view their Congressional representative less favorably if they didn’t support legislation aimed at protecting them from surprise billing
Percentage of voters who said Congress should take action to protect patients from surprise bills

Benchmark Solution Preferred Over Arbitration

Broad public outrage against surprise billing earlier this year led lawmakers to propose a variety of different legislative actions to stop the practice, but Congress is now under pressure to reach consensus on an approach and to take action to eliminate surprise medical bills.

Voters strongly prefer the benchmark approach, which would require out-of-network providers to accept the in-network rate negotiated in their local market in certain situations. 

When asked to choose a policy solution to address surprise billing, voters overwhelmingly selected the benchmark approach over arbitration by a factor of 2 to 1, regardless of party affiliation, according to the poll results.

This benchmark approach — proposed in a bipartisan Senate bill called the Lower Health Care Costs Act — could reduce federal spending by approximately $25 billion over a 10-year period, according to projections by the Congressional Budget Office. In the House, the No Surprises Act also includes a benchmark approach. 

The less-preferred approach, arbitration, has been championed by several members of the House and Senate and pushed by private equity firms that own physician practices. Arbitration — a process by which an insurer and provider would use a dispute resolution process to resolve out-of-network payment disputes — adds administrative burden and uncertainty to the health care system and will result in higher costs for consumers in the form of premiums, according to the CBO

The support for the benchmark approach held up even when voters were exposed to the counterarguments against both approaches. 

When presented with industry criticism against the benchmark approach, namely that it would so deeply affect revenue that hospitals and doctors’ offices would be forced to close, it still remained the more popular option by a large margin.

Read the full executive summary of Arnold Ventures’ October 2019 surprise billing polling, which reveals how voters feel about Congressional action in response to surprise billing.