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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Health care spending has become ‘unsustainable,’ McMorris Rodgers says at House hearing

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., left, speaks with Sophia Tripoli, an official of healthcare nonprofit Families USA, after a hearing on Jan. 31, 2024 about health care costs.   (Simone Garber/Medill News Service)
By Simone Garber For The Spokesman-Review

WASHINGTON – Health experts on Wednesday urged Congress to take more action to address the growing problem of unaffordable health care and deteriorating quality of care as spending is expected to continue to rise.

Health care spending rates rose 4.1% to $4.5 trillion in 2022, averaging to $13,500 per person, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Conversely, spending on Medicare patients has slowed to the lowest level since 2005.

The problem stems from a “business model that allows industry to set prices that have little to do with the quality of the care they offer,” said Sophia Tripoli, who serves as the senior director of health policy at Families USA, a health care nonprofit. Tripoli said she blames rising health care costs on rapid consolidation that has eliminated market competition.

Medical price-gouging, Tripoli said, has allowed monopolistic pricing to “push our nation’s families to the brink of financial ruin.”

Spokane Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, agreed that improving the current health care system is an “important step,” especially with more than 60% of Americans living paycheck to paycheck.

“This trend is not sustainable,” McMorris Rodgers said. “We have to find a way to reverse it.”

To address the lack of clarity on costs, the House in December passed the Lower Costs, More Transparency Act, a bill aimed at increasing price transparency and reducing the cost of prescription drugs.

This legislation “empowers patients to make informed decisions about their care,” said Anna Eshoo, a Democrat from California and the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Health.

The bill has not yet been taken up by the Senate. McMorris Rodgers and Eshoo said their work “would not be done” until the bill reaches President Joe Biden’s desk and is signed into law.

“Americans are in an affordability crisis,” Eshoo said. “This affects everyone – no one skates away from this. We’re human beings. Our bodies need care.”

McMorris Rodgers called price transparency a “standard” across the health care system, emphasizing its potential to “restore doctor-patient relationships and address what’s driving costs.”

Kevin Lyons, plan administrator for the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, said the American health care system is one of the “least transparent aspects of our economy.”

“We, the everyday Americans, don’t have the deep pockets to lobby Washington,” Lyons told lawmakers. “Yet, our needs and voices are just as important.”

Tripoli also noted the importance of bipartisan cooperation to Congress implementing “common sense policies” that make health care more affordable for patients, employers and taxpayers alike.

“This work is urgently needed,” Tripoli said. “The journey to fully transform our health care system is long, but Congress holds the power to take the next critical steps.”