On January 31st, 2024, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health held a hearing entitled “Health Care Spending in the United States: Unsustainable for Patients, Employers, and Taxpayers,” which discussed the rising costs of healthcare. Subcommittee on Health Chair Mr. Brett Guthrie (R-KY) led the hearing by emphasizing his commitment to “continuing the bipartisan work we did in 2023 to bring down the high cost of healthcare.”

The United States spent $4.5 trillion in healthcare spending throughout 2022, but in the following years continues to have a shorter life expectancy than other countries across the world. As a result of the high medical prices, almost half of Americans forego some sort of healthcare and many see significant negative effects on their financial ability to purchase common necessities (discussed by Ms. Tripoli, Senior Director of Health Policy for Families USA, in her testimony). House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) noted in her opening statement that 60% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck and that improving price transparency in the healthcare system can financially benefit many families.

The common theme highlighted throughout the hearing by Congress members was H.R. 5378, the Lower Costs, More Transparency Act. Chair Guthrie specified that the Lower Costs, More Transparency Act aids U.S. families by promoting price transparency in the healthcare system. Several subcommittee members and witnesses agreed that healthcare price transparency can contribute to positively impacting the well-being of United States individuals, including in specifically mentioned areas such as restoring doctor-patient relationships (Chair McMorris Rodgers), providing greater data on healthcare prices to inform further interventions (Ms. Martin – President CEO of Healthcare Cost Institute), and addressing prescription prices (Representative Dunn (R-FL). Other price-reducing interventions included increasing competition in the healthcare sector, reducing consolidation, and enacting site neutral payments.

Representative Bilirakis (R-FL), Representative Bucshon (R-IN), and Representative Griffith (R-VA) also mentioned prevention methods and screening as potential beneficial cost-reducing factors, as well. When asked by Representative Bilirakis to elaborate on how the United States government can better inspire greater use of preventive measures for long-term financial savings, Dr. White, Director of Health Analysis at the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), stated that “cost of the test,….how specific it is, and the characteristics of the disease, progression, all matter” in determining if the preventive measures increase or reduce overall healthcare costs.

Limited information was provided in how child well-being is directly impacted by the elevated U.S. healthcare costs. Medical debt and high healthcare costs can adversely affect a diverse range of children and families. High healthcare costs may lead to negative impacts on a child’s physical health, mental health, development, as well as obtainment of resources to meet their basic needs (such as nutrition, transportation, rent, etc.). As previously mentioned, the steep prices have led a plethora of families and children to forego necessary healthcare related to doctor’s visits, dental care, prescriptions, and other services. A study conducted on 2013-2017 National Health Interview Surveys found that medical financial hardship was largely associated with children having “greater odds of delaying care…..and having unmet health care needs”. Without necessary healthcare services or prescriptions, children can have an increased potential to have previous hospitalizations and fair or adversely impacted health. Other impacts of medical debt on families and children include the potential negative effects of stress on the guardian’s parenting strategies, as well as the child having a greater potential of experiencing activity limitation.

By Emmalyn Walenda, Policy Intern