There’s one question I hear almost every day from Tennesseans, and it is, “What are you doing to lower the cost I pay for health care?”
Well, I’ve got an answer.
I proposed a bill that will reduce what Tennesseans pay out of their own pockets for health care. Nearly a year ago, Dr. Brent James from the National Academies of Science testified before our Senate health committee with this startling statistic: up to half of what the American people spend on health care may be unnecessary.
That would mean that up to half of the $3.5 trillion the United States collectively spent on health care in 2017 was unnecessary. That is $1.8 trillion – three times as much as we spend on all of our national defense, 60 times as much as we spend on Pell grants for college students and about 550 times as much as we spend on national parks.
Like every American family, both Democrat and Republican, United States senators are concerned about the high costs that affect virtually every American.
This legislation will reduce what Americans pay out of their own pockets for health care in three major ways.
Number one, it would end surprise medical billing. That's when you get a bill two months after you've gone to the emergency room for $300 or $3,000 that you didn't expect.
A study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation this week found that one in six visits to the emergency room or stay in the hospital will result in an unexpected several thousand dollar bill a few weeks later. A father from Knoxville recently told me he took his son to an emergency room after a bicycle accident. His son was treated and he paid a $150 copay because the emergency room was “in-network” for his health insurance, and then they headed home.
So he was surprised when he received a bill in the mail weeks later for $1,800 – because even though the emergency room was “in-network,” the doctor who treated his son was not.
This legislation will put an end to that.
Two, it will increase transparency so that you will know more about the price of what you're buying in medical services. You can't reduce the cost of what you pay for your health care until you know what the cost of your health care is.
And three, it will create more competition for generic drugs and for biosimilar drugs, which make up 90 percent of the prescription drugs that we buy. This will impact many people across our state. I know it will help Shirley, from Franklin, who recently wrote me saying, “As a 71-year-old senior with arthritis, I rely on Enbrel to keep my symptoms in check. My copay has just been increased from $95 to $170 every 90 days. At this rate, I will have to begin limiting my usage in order to balance my monthly budget.”
Those three things: ending surprise medical billing, increasing transparency, and creating more competition for drugs, will reduce health care costs that you pay for out of your own pocket.
My hope is that the Senate health committee I chair approves this bill next week so that we can send this legislation to the full Senate and lower the cost of care for Tennesseans.
Lamar Alexander has been a senior senator from Tennessee since 2003.