Petition drive to limit hospital charges in Michigan gets go-ahead from state election board

Health Care Associated Press

Michigan's elections board gave the go-ahead Monday for a petition drives seeking to limit what hospitals can charge uninsured and underinsured patients and auto accident victims.

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The Stop Overcharging initiative, the form of which was approved by the Board of State Canvassers, would prohibit hospitals and health providers from charging more than 150 percent of the lowest amount they accept as payment in full from any payer. If organizers collect hundreds of thousands of valid voter signatures, their bill will go to the Legislature. If lawmakers reject it or ignore it, the legislation would get a statewide vote in 2016.

"This is truly a citizens' initiative to make sure that we address the discriminatory pricing practices that hospitals charge," said Rocky Raczkowski, a former Republican state lawmaker who is spearheading the effort. "It's amazing that in this decade, in this century, where everything else has some type of consumer protection and transparency, we have absolutely none."

He acknowledged that insurers are supportive of the effort, which was blasted by defenders of Michigan's auto insurance law as a "cynical ploy" by the insurance lobby to threaten an end run around lawmakers unless they pass stalled legislation after the Nov. 4 election to curtail coverage for catastrophically injured motorists.

Michigan is the only state to offer unlimited medical benefits for major auto injuries and related rehabilitation, costing drivers $186 per car per year. A report by a nonpartisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan concluded last year that the unlimited benefits are a reason for higher medical spending in the state, but bigger factors include auto insurers having the primary responsibility for paying the bills, their lack of market power to negotiate lower payments and their inability to implement cost controls.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, GOP House Speaker Jase Bolger and insurers have unsuccessfully pushed legislation that in part would no longer let hospitals and physicians charge insurers more for auto-related injuries or possibly set a fee schedule similar to what exists for workers' compensation injuries or Medicare.

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Raczkowski said he hopes the GOP-controlled Legislature will pass a bill in the "lame-duck" session, but "we're preparing as if they wouldn't."

John Truscott, spokesman for the Coalition Protecting Auto No-Fault, which includes medical groups and labor unions, criticized the initiative as an attempt to interfere with free-market negotiations between health providers and insurers.

"Their petition language threatens to impose the same failed policy of government-mandated price controls that insurance companies have tried to include in no-fault legislation over the past several years," he said in a statement. "Insurance companies know full well that hospitals are required by law to charge everyone the same prices. They can accept lower than the charged price because insurance providers are free to negotiate different reimbursement rates based on their purchasing power, volume and other factors."

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Online:

Stop Overcharging: www.stopovercharging.com

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