Wyoming Senators Are Mixed On Trump Health Costs Proposal

Jun 28, 2019

Services agency sixty days to flush out the details of how to force hospitals to be up front with patients about the costs of their procedures. It's intended to help average Americans shop around the marketplace for cheaper rates. And Wyoming's junior Senator John Barrasso is fully on board.

"I think people ought to know what it's going to cost before they actually undergo treatment, so I'm very happy that the president's done that. I've been working for years to try to make sure people knew what things cost. And to get the costs down, and the competition will help in terms of forcing people to lower the costs," Barrasso says.

Barrasso's a doctor by trade, and also now a member of the GOP leadership team in the Senate. He says transparency in medicine is essential.

"Medical costs have been complicated like airline costs - very few people pay the exact same thing for tickets, but I think people ought to know what the cost is going to be specifically for them," Barrasso says.

Barrasso's not alone - even many Democrats want hospitals and doctors to be up front with patients about costs. Here's Pennsylvania Democrat Brendan Boyle who is supportive of the effort - even if he's got a caveat.

"In my view, anything we can do to bring more transparency to pricing and costs in health care, is potentially a positive step. However, that is not going to come near to solving the myriad of problems we have when it comes to the cost of health care. We still spend 18% of our GDP on health care. Almost double what other western countries spend. The reality is that that's simply unsustainable as we move forward," Boyle says.

Boyle and other Democrats claim Trump and GOP leaders like Barrasso are merely nibbling around the edges. And he says it will come back to bite the Republican Party unless they sit down with Democrats and try to tackle the bigger issues that are causing medical prices to soar in Wyoming and elsewhere.

"The reason why they lost in 2018 - more than any other reason - was because of health care and their drive to kick more than 29 million Americans off their health insurance and cancel Obamacare. The fact of the matter is the Republicans - if they want to preserve their Senate majority and if they want to hold the White House in 2020 - need to work with us to reduce health care costs in this country," Boyle says.

Even Wyoming's senior Senator Mike Enzi isn't convinced that Trump's new purported effort at transparency will work.

"Well, he signed an order to have his agencies work on it. We're a long way from being there," Enzi says.

Just this Wednesday a bipartisan group of senators on the Senate's health committee passed a bill that has more teeth than Trump's executive order, and even if he's dubious about Trump's new order, Enzi is proud to be a part of this latest bipartisan effort.

"I just left a health committee meeting where we passed out a bill that will make a difference," Enzi says.

The bill Enzi's committee sent before the full Senate would force hospitals and doctors to be up front with their patients, so they don't get smacked with surprise medical bills. It also seeks to lower the costs of drug prices. And Enzi says that legislation is better than any one-sided executive order - especially because it passed out of committee with a bipartisan mix of twenty supporters and a mere three defectors.

"Well, because it's had a lot of hearings and a lot of input from a lot of senators and is pretty bipartisan - and bipartisan can pass around here," Enzi says.

Still, the Trump administration and Senate Republican leaders aren't clamoring to usher that bipartisan effort through this divided Congress. The administration is trying to force drug companies to list the cost of their drugs in ads that run on television, which is currently being challenged by three pharmaceutical companies. Barrasso likes that effort.

"The drugs that are advertised on television seem to be the most expensive, and I think it's really important that people are going to know what those will cost before they go and ask their doctor about them. And that's what the administration is trying to do by making them post the cost of those drugs - the price - so that people who are watching the commercials will know what they're talking about," Barrasso says.

Besides the new pharmaceutical price listing rules that could kick in this summer, Barrasso says Trump's newest executive order is all about the free market and competition which he says will lowers costs.

"We shouldn't even have to be discussing this, because people ought to know that already. You know if you're going to buy a car, you're going to go out to dinner, go to the grocery store, you know what things cost. People ought to be able to know what things cost when they need health care," Barrasso says.

Still, many experts say healthcare isn't like shopping for a car. It's more complex than that. Which is why such a large bipartisan block of senators are trying to tackle the heart of America's soaring health care costs. They're just hoping 20-20 presidential politics doesn't derail a broadly bipartisan effort before the train even starts rolling down the tracks.