Ads touting McConnell’s record on surprise billing, Medicare for All could be a surprise of their own, since they confuse the issues

Analysis by Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

A conservative group has started television and radio commercials in Kentucky and other states thanking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others in Congress for blocking legislation that would offer consumers some protection from surprise medical bills.

While that may not sound politically advantageous to the senator’s re-election campaign, the ads conflate and confuse the surprise-billing issue with the much more prominent “Medicare for All” proposal, which is favored by the most liberal Democratic presidential candidates.

The TV ad says, “Some politicians are too scared to stand up to the special interests. But not Mitch McConnell. He fights for us, like on health care and surprise medical billing. Special-interest groups have tried to use the issue to implement a government-run Medicare for All scheme, putting our hospitals and care at risk. But Mitch said NO, because he knows how devastating that would be, for us and our children. So, thank you, Mitch McConnell, for putting patients first.”

The Taxpayers Protection Alliance said that in December, McConnell “and legislative allies halted attempts by members of Congress such as Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) to have the government impose rate-setting in cases of surprise medical billing. Surprise bills occur when patients receive unwanted and unexpected healthcare bills in the mail days or even weeks after a hospital room visit.”

Yes, but the surprise-billing issue has little if anything to do with “Medicare for All,” one possible exception being that proponents of the latter cite the former as one problem it would solve. TPA says the two are related this way: “Surprise medical billing is only an issue because of rampant government intervention in the medical sector due to Obamacare and Medicare’s disastrous rural price controls. This is a problem that was specifically caused by misguided government intervention. In fact, three-quarters of Obamacare networks are now considered ‘narrow’ with few choices for patients, leading to many patients receiving ‘surprise bills.’”

TPA says its campaign in Kentucky, Kansas, Texas, and New York is intended to thank McConnell “and like-minded lawmakers for standing up for patients and opposing the federal government dictating health-care prices across the country.”

The proposed legislation “doesn’t set actually set rates for out-of-network procedures, but instead sets benchmarks for how much out-of-network providers can collect if a surprise bill shows up,” health journalist Trudy Lieberman notes. “But in a TV ad that lasts a few seconds, how would the viewer be able to make that distinction?”

This isn’t the first time that a group with undisclosed sources of money has tried to mis-characterize the issue of surprise billing. Last summer, a “dark money” group called Doctor Patient Unity ran an ad campaign in Kentucky and other states saying that Alexander’s bill would hurt patients and help insurance companies. The campaign targeted McConnell, Sen. Rand Paul and six other senators.

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