aequum recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Bill Cassidy, a Senator from Louisiana, about his thoughts on the current health care situation in the U.S. Senator Cassidy attended Louisiana State University School of Medicine where he earned an M.D. He specialized in the treatment of diseases of the liver at the Earl K. Long Medical Center before becoming involved in politics.
Senator Cassidy is focused on and passionate about improving the health care system in the US. and believes in patient-centered health care solutions. In May, Senator Cassidy (along with twenty-six bipartisan co-sponsors) introduced the STOP Surprise Medical Bills Act (S. 1531) and introduced the Know the Price Act of 2019 (S. 1577), which address the very issues Senator Cassidy recently discussed with aequum.
aequum: Senator Cassidy, thank you for your willingness to be interviewed for our aequum newsletter. You have a long history of serving uninsured and underinsured patients in Louisiana’s public hospital system. What are the principal ways you have done this?
Senator Cassidy: I worked with Louisiana State University in a charity hospital system, which means 90% of the practice was for individuals who are uninsured or on Medicaid. I also helped found the Greater Baton Rouge Community Clinic, which provided free health, dental and vision care to the working poor – those who make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford health insurance. The Clinic operated on a virtual platform that partnered patients with doctors and dentists who provided care free of charge.
aequum: How have you extended this mission to a national level since you started serving as a member in the House in 2009 and the Senate in 2015?
Senator Cassidy: Both are a service. As a medical practitioner, I was on the front lines. Now I can address the issues that I witnessed as a practitioner. As a Senator, just as when I was a practitioner helping the working poor, the question is how do you deal with scarce resources? How do you take those scarce resources and get people what they need to have?
aequum: Senator, you have advanced a number of ideas and ways to reign in the soaring cost of health care. One is empowering patients to reduce their health care costs. How can this be done?
Senator Cassidy: I strongly support and am working towards price transparency. It is important for a patient to know the cost of a procedure or test before it is done, instead of years later. This can be done and is already being done by certain medical practitioners. Lasik surgery is an example. You see the price on a billboard of an office that does the procedure. The patient knows the price before they get the service. The market exists in health care that shows price transparency works.
Another way is to prohibit Pharmacy Benefit Managers from including gag clauses in which pharmacists cannot tell a patient that they could save money by paying cash instead of their insurance co-pay. We have accomplished this already. President Trump has signed the bill banning these gag clauses.
These are only a few of the ways we can help to lower health care costs.
aequum: Do you think surprise medical bills, what we call balance billing, needs to be addressed and, if so, how should it be addressed?
Senator Cassidy: Absolutely it needs to be addressed. The stakeholders agree and want to come to the table to bring good solutions. It is wrong for a patient to be surprise billed for professional services not covered as in-network. The patient should be held harmless from these surprise bills.
We need bipartisan support with the senators to find something, some middle ground, that will address balance bills. We are working with the administration and President Trump is interested. We want to define the middle ground with the understanding that the legislation will hold patients harmless and that the legislation will be a bipartisan effort. We have conducted research and collected comments on this issue, which have been very helpful.
aequum: Our newsletter is sent to individuals working for TPAs, health care insurance brokers, self-insured health plans and insurers. What would you like to say to them?
Senator Cassidy: Our goal is the same as theirs, which is to help patients get the care they need, be wise purchasers, and reward them for being wise purchasers. Our common goal is to help protect the patients and give the insurance policy they hold greater value.
aequum: Senator Cassidy, thank you for your willingness to speak with us and thank you for all that you do to contain health care costs and make health care affordable for Americans.