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Trump Seeks to Force Hospitals to Open Books as They Fight Virus

May 16, 2020, 1:30 AM

The White House wants Congress to require hospitals and insurers to reveal the prices they negotiate for medical services as part of any additional round of coronavirus stimulus, in an effort to short-circuit a legal battle with the health care industry.

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department published two regulations last year requiring hospitals and insurers to make their prices public. The industry has challenged the hospital rule in court, arguing it’s a violation of the First Amendment, and successfully delayed its implementation.

The White House believes writing the requirement into law would end the court battle, according to people familiar with the matter.

President Donald Trump and many lawmakers have long pushed for more transparency regarding hospital prices, which health policy experts blame in part for the U.S. enduring some of the highest health-care costs in the world. But the latest push comes at a sensitive time, as hospitals struggle to combat a coronavirus outbreak that has also damaged them financially.

While treating thousands of infected Americans, hospitals have had to cancel many profitable elective procedures. They’ve also seen many of their patients lose better-paying private health insurance coverage as the outbreak put millions of Americans out of work.

Earlier: Virus Pushes America’s Hospitals to the Brink of Financial Ruin

Trump re-tweeted an advocacy group for price transparency on Thursday, after the organization, took to Twitter to thank the president for his “BOLD leadership during the #Covid19 crisis.”

One official said the White House would be interested in transparency legislation if there’s another stimulus package.

The House on Friday night passed a $3 trillion bill that Republicans have criticized as an assemblage of Democratic wish-list items with no chance of becoming law.

Trump said Friday he holds “all the cards” in the negotiations, though he seeks measures such as a payroll tax cut in addition to a provision on hospital price transparency.

White House spokesman Judd Deere added in a statement Friday: “President Trump has taken the most aggressive action on health care price transparency in history and would welcome any efforts by Congress to complement and reinforce our actions to put real prices in the hands of consumers.”

If he’s successful, the policy could dramatically change billing in health care and the way the hospital industry conducts transactions. Both hospitals and insurers say revealing negotiated prices they say are proprietary could have the unintended effect of raising costs for consumers.

Interest groups including the American Hospital Association and America’s Health Insurance Plans are opposed to the price transparency effort.

(Updates with House passing stimulus bill, in eighth paragraph.)

To contact the reporters on this story:
Jennifer Jacobs in Washington at jjacobs68@bloomberg.net;
Shira Stein in Arlington at sstein51@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Alex Wayne at awayne3@bloomberg.net

Joshua Gallu, John Harney

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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