Letter to the editor: HHS must fairly implement No Surprises Act

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To the editor:

Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals sacrificed significantly for their patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Patient volumes decreased as much as 50% in 2020 as non-emergency procedures were suspended or delayed, and many patients feared going in for treatment because of the virus.

The good news is that at the end of last year, Congress passed the bipartisan No Surprises Act, which protects patients from surprise medical bills that are no fault of their own. The bill established an independent dispute resolution (IDR) process for insurers and providers to resolve billing disputes in a fair and equitable manner, protecting patients’ access to care and ensuring adequate reimbursements to providers.

Now the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), led by Secretary Xavier Becerra, must fairly implement the law. If HHS unfairly favors insurers in the rulemaking process, providers will face intense financial pressure without adequate reimbursements for the care they give to patients.

In Iowa, unfair implementation of the No Surprises Act could create a real threat to rural healthcare and low-income patients. According to a Guidehouse study, 12% of Iowa rural hospitals are at risk of closure due to financial pressure. With the closure of these facilities, some patients — many of whom depend on Medicaid and other safety net provisions — will have no provider in a significant geographic area. HHS should prioritize these needs while implementing the No Surprises Act.

It is essential HHS undertakes the full rulemaking process so all stakeholders — especially patients and providers — are given the opportunity to weigh in. Without a fair IDR mechanism, rural communities will be even more at risk of losing their hospital and medical care services.

Every patient, regardless of where they live or their ability to pay, deserves quality, affordable care. I urge Sen. Grassley and Sen. Ernst, who have been champions for rural healthcare, to work with HHS to safeguard patient care and physician livelihoods by implementing the bipartisan No Surprises Act as intended and prioritizing patient and provider needs.

Kelley Koch, RN, BSN, MS Healthcare Administration
West Des Moines

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