Consumers need more transparency when it comes to their medical bills, particularly because of facility fees that many find confusing, the chairwoman of a legislative commission said Thursday.
Sen. Donna Bailey (D-Saco) pressed hospital officials for details on facility fees and how they differ from professional fees that help pay for a physician’s expertise.
“That’s part of what’s causing angst amongst the public,” Bailey said during the second meeting of the Task Force to Evaluate the Impact of Facility Fees on Patients. “If it’s not clear, how can the average consumer on the street understand this?”
Lawmakers formed the commission earlier in response to a bill sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Allagash) that proposed to prohibit certain medical facility fees and require annual reports on facility fees that are charged or billed.
At Thursday’s meeting, Andrew MacLean, CEO of the Maine Medical Association, said the country’s broken health care system continually pushes costs onto physicians and consumers.
“Our system needs comprehensive reform,” he said. “The physician frustration with the current system is one of the significant causes of stress and burnout and the reason some physicians are considering leaving the profession.”
Part of the problem is that each type of health care setting is under a different reimbursement system and they are all required to continually upgrade medical equipment and computer databases to keep up with advances in medicine, he said.
“All of these infrastructure requirements are among the things that are covered through these facility fees in some contexts,” he said.
Dr. Paul Cain, president of the medical association, said he opened his own orthopedic surgery center in Auburn in the early 2000s because patients were faced with long wait times at local hospitals.
Now retired, he said they provided efficient and convenient health care for the region.
“There’s no way we could have done that and survived without facility fees,” he said. “It just wouldn’t be possible.”
Earlier this year, Consumers for Affordable Health Care expressed support for Jackson’s bill, saying that the fees are part of the larger concern about the cost of health care.
More than two-thirds of Mainers say they are one major medical bill away from financial disaster and one in three skipped or delayed going to a doctor when they were sick because of concerns about cost, a survey conducted by the group showed.
The group’s hotline often gets calls about facility fees charged at walk-in clinics and urgent care centers, the group said in May.
The fees can vary widely depending on where a patient receives care and the type of help they are receiving.
As the task force discussed the issue Thursday, the senior director of the National Academy for State Health Policy said that many states are grappling with the same issues.
“There is frustration and a lack of transparency,” said Maureen Hensley-Quinn. “When somebody’s paying a facility fee, what are they paying for? It’s not totally clear. I’m not saying it’s not important to pay for those pieces, but I’ve never seen it broken out.”
She said some states have opted to require consumer disclosures about the fees, rather than attempting to prohibit them.
“What we’re struggling with right now is not unique to Maine,” she said. “This is what other states are wrestling with. We’re not alone.”