surprise billing

Health care has been a leading issue in the presidential campaign over the past year, as Democratic candidates have clashed with each other, and especially with President Trump. But voters, who tell pollsters that health is among their top concerns, also complain that the health debate has been confusing and hard to follow.

With voting about to begin in many states, here's a guide to some key health care terms, issues and policy differences at play.

Universal coverage, "Medicare for All" and single-payer are not the same thing

With the new year come many new state laws across the country. There are the usual suspects — gun laws, marijuana legalization and housing protections — but there are also some new frontiers: groundbreaking laws concerning Internet user privacy and the classification of contract workers in California, for example.

Here are some of the most notable laws taking effect Jan. 1, in no particular order:

Red flag

Congress is set to pass a $1.4 trillion spending package this week, which President Trump has said he'll sign. The legislation includes policy changes and funding increases that public health advocates are celebrating, as well as the permanent repeal of three key taxes that were designed to pay for Obamacare — a win for industry groups.

After months of hearings and negotiations, millions of dollars in attack ads, full-court-press lobbying efforts and countless rounds of negotiations, Congress appears to be moving toward a solution to the nation's surprise medical bill problem. Sort of.

Surprise bills, the often-exorbitant medical bills that come when patients don't realize they've been seen by a provider outside their insurance network, have in recent months been viewed as public enemy No. 1 on Capitol Hill.

The James Cancer Hospital at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

Ohio State University researchers have found that Americans with health insurance are paying soaring prices for out-of-network care. 

Vowing to protect Medicare with "every ounce of strength," President Trump spoke last week to a cheering crowd in Florida. But his executive order released shortly afterward includes provisions that could significantly alter key pillars of the program by making it easier for beneficiaries and doctors to opt out.

Solon resident Jodi Creasap Gee had just relocated to the Cleveland area from Missouri with her husband and three kids when her 5-year-old daughter cut her foot. 

The house was still in disarray and the kids were playing when her daughter came into the kitchen screaming, Creasap Gee said.

“There was just a trail of blood behind her. Her foot’s all bloody and I’m going, ‘oh no.' I don’t even know where to go because we just moved here, and it’s a Sunday,” she said.

Surprise medical bills — those unexpected and often pricey bills patients face when they get care from a doctor or hospital that isn't in their insurance network — are the health care problem du jour in Washington, with President Trump and congressional lawmakers from both sides of the aisle calling for action.

President Trump called on Republicans and Democrats to pass legislation this year to end surprise medical bills, in remarks made in the White House's Roosevelt Room Thursday.

"We're determined to end surprise medical billing for American patients," Trump said.

Bills like those have been featured in the NPR-Kaiser Health News series launched in February 2018. Two patients whose medical bills were part of the series attended the event.

Surrounded by patients who told horror stories of being stuck with hefty bills, President Trump recently waded into a widespread health care problem for which almost all people — even those with insurance — are at risk: surprise medical billing.

Trump's declaration that taming unexpected bills would be a top priority for his administration echoed through the halls of Congress, where a handful of Republican and Democratic lawmakers had already been studying the problem.