Letter to the Editor: If Congress bows to insurance companies, hospitals will close

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To the editor,

With the COVID-19 pandemic confronting our community, local doctors, nurses, physician assistants and technicians are the true heroes our nation has counted on during this difficult time.

Unfortunately, many specialty doctors and health care workers across the country have seen a dramatic loss of revenue with the cancellation of all non-emergency care.

The strain is particularly felt in rural areas, where hospitals are seeing pay cuts rise to almost 50% and layoffs approaching 30%. The timing of these cuts and layoffs could not be worse. If coronavirus cases begin to increase again, and if more of our rural hospitals close, further restrictions in access to care may result in an even greater disaster. 

Hospitals need the support of Congress, especially with the largest insurance companies pushing Washington to help their own industry by lobbying Congressional members to support government rate-setting legislation on surprise medical bills.

The American Academy of Emergency Medicine and the University of Tennessee Nashville Emergency Medicine Residency program are in the process of conducting a study to determine the patient volume reductions and the financial impact of COVID-19 on emergency medicine physicians and their groups. Preliminary data review and discussions with many groups across the country suggest the impact is catastrophic. 

If the insurance companies get their way, Tennessee’s rural hospitals and doctors will suffer, as rate-setting would allow bureaucrats to calculate reimbursement. Using their arbitrary rates as a government-mandated benchmark would cut reimbursements, passing financial responsibility onto hospitals, emergency departments and, sadly, our patients. 

Surprise medical bills come from insurance companies. If the insurance industry is successful in its government rate-setting push, rural hospitals that are already facing financial pressures would be forced to close, leaving patients with fewer options for urgent care and stacks of surprise medical bills. 

No one likes surprise bills. There is a solution. Congress should embrace a negotiated market-based approach that has worked in several states to address surprise medical bills. Tennessee doctors, hospitals and patients are counting on Congress to support a solution that works and also protects everyone working on the front lines of this pandemic. 

Thank you,

Dr. Kevin Beier

American Academy of Emergency Medicine board member

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