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American Journal of Managed Care: Policies to Address Surprise Billing Can Affect Health Insurance Premiums


Objectives: To quantify the proportion of health plan spending on services for which surprise billing is common—provided by radiologists, anesthesiologists, pathologists, emergency physicians, emergency ground ambulances, and emergency outpatient facilities—and estimate the potential impact of proposed policies to address surprise billing on health insurance premiums.

Study Design: Analysis of 2017 commercial claims data from the Health Care Cost Institute, comprising 568.5 million claims from 44.8 million covered lives in 3 large US insurers: UnitedHealthcare, Aetna, and Humana.

Methods: We calculate the share of total health plan claims spending attributable to ancillary and emergency services. Next, we estimate the premium impact of proposed federal policies to address surprise billing, which, by removing provider leverage stemming from the ability to surprise-bill, could reduce in- and out-of-network payments for these services, in turn affecting premiums. Specifically, we model the premium impact of reducing payment for these services (1) by 15% and (2) to 150% of traditional Medicare payment rates.

Results: More than 10% of health plan spending is attributable to ancillary and emergency services that commonly surprise-bill. Reducing payment for these services by 15% would reduce premiums by 1.6% ($67 per member per year), and reducing average payment to 150% of traditional Medicare rates—the high end of payments to other specialists—would reduce premiums by 5.1% ($212 per member per year). These savings would reduce aggregate premiums for the nation's commercially insured population by approximately $12 billion and $38 billion, respectively.

Conclusions: Addressing surprise billing could substantially affect commercial insurance premiums.

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