Trump cassidy

Screengrab via Whitehouse.gov/live stream. 

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has joined the push to protect patients from costly “surprise medical bills” — a frustrating health care issue that Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy has often highlighted.

Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, joined Trump and a bipartisan group of lawmakers at the White House on Thursday to announce a renewed effort to eliminate the sticker shock some patients face in medical emergencies when they receive care from a provider that isn’t in their insurance network.

“There’s general agreement that patients should be held harmless,” Cassidy told reporters after the meeting. “The president made his commitment to doing so clear.”

But details about the proposal, which Trump said would generate bipartisan support, remain murky.

The president said he hoped to have a more specific plan in two weeks.

“If we get this the way we want it over the next two weeks, I think you’re going to see something really great," Trump said. “It’s something that will have a tremendous impact.”

Surprise bills happen most often after someone seeks medical care in an emergency room. A common scenario is when the hospital is in network, but the patient is treated by an out-of-network doctor. Additionally, some specialists, who are brought in for surgeries and other procedures, such as anesthesiologists, can be out-of-network and prompt additional out-of-pocket costs.

In announcing the effort, Trump welcomed to the White House people who shared their stories of facing thousands of dollars in unexpected medical bills.

Ohio native Paul Davis, told how he had to settle a $17,850 bill his daughter, Elizabeth Moreno, faced for a urine screening after a back procedure because it was out of network.

"And this type of billing is all too common not just among dishonest providers," Davis said. "The problem of improper medical billing affects most those who can afford it least."

Trump said stories like that are all-too-common.

"I've heard them for years, myself — friends, where they just come back and they get a bill that they can't understand it," he said.

But doctors and the insurance industry have long disagreed on the right path forward.

Cassidy and Sen. Maggie Hassan, a New Hampshire Democrat who also joined Trump for the White House announcement, said they are waiting for information from the Congressional Budget Office on a few ideas they are weighing before coming out in favor of one plan.

Cassidy has, in the past, proposed legislation that would ban out-of-network providers from billing patients directly for costs that exceed the in-network price.

Separately, Hassan has previously proposed legislation that would establish an arbitration process between insurers and providers to negotiate a fair price.

During a Thursday morning briefing call on the proposal, a senior administration official said in emergency situations the Trump administration wants to adopt a plan in which “overall payments would be determined with negotiation between the provider and the private insurer.” In cases of pre-scheduled surgeries and other procedures, the aim is to ensure more “upfront information” including written cost estimates, according to the official, who outlined the proposal for reporters on condition of anonymity.

“I’m not wedded to a particular solution. I’m wedded to the right solution," Cassidy said.


Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.