Hospital-Bashing Ads Will Fan Pricing Gripes During Biden Speech

Television ads starring Susan Sarandon will air Wednesday during coverage of President Joe Biden’s address to Congress, aimed in part at pressuring the administration to force hospitals to comply with new rules requiring them to reveal their prices.

The ads also star actress Cynthia Erivo and artist Shepard Fairey. They first aired during the Academy Awards broadcast on Sunday, sponsored by a group called Power to the Patients whose backers include former biotech entrepreneur Cynthia Fisher.

Kevin Morra, executive producer at Swift River Productions, a Hollywood agency that recruited celebrities for the project, said in an interview that the ads would air during coverage of Biden’s speech.

The group’s advertisements are the latest round in a long-running battle between the hospital industry and patient advocacy groups, including one founded by Fisher.

Fisher and her allies, including many members of Congress in both parties, have sought to force hospitals to publicly post prices for their services, such as surgeries. They argue the information would make it easier for patients to shop for elective procedures and lead to greater price competition among hospitals.

Fisher said in an interview that she’s spending “millions” on the effort, declining to be more specific.

“This message is about giving patients the knowledge. This is non-political,” she said of the new ads. “These messages are to tell people they now have this right -- they have the right for hospitals to tell them prices up front, and straight-up prices, so they can shop and save their own money.”

The hospital industry has fought against revealing its prices, arguing that costs could go up if they’re forced to publish what they consider proprietary information. Most hospital care in the U.S. is paid for by government programs that set reimbursement rates or by private insurers, who negotiate prices with the health providers.

Former President Donald Trump’s administration created two regulations intended to make hospitals and health insurers disclose their privately negotiated rates, as well as patients’ out-of-pocket costs. Industry groups opposed the policies and challenged them in court.

The first provisions of the Trump administration’s hospital price transparency rule took effect in January, requiring hospitals to publish on their websites information about charges for common services. Yet compliance has fallen short: Researchers found 65 of the 100 largest U.S. hospitals were not clearly posting the required information, according to Health Affairs.

Hospitals that don’t comply may face penalties of up to $300 per day, a relatively modest fine for many facilities that tally revenue in the hundreds of millions or billions each year.

A spokesperson for the American Hospital Association, an industry trade group, questioned the methodology of the Health Affairs study and said in an e-mail that hospitals are working to make information about patients’ costs available. The group had no comment on the Power to the Patients ad campaign.

Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote to Biden’s Health and Human Services secretary, Xavier Becerra, earlier this month to urge stronger enforcement of the Trump-era rule.

“Given the widespread non-compliance by hospitals, we urge HHS to revisit its enforcement tools, including the amount of the civil penalty, and to conduct regular audits of hospitals for compliance,” the lawmakers wrote.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.