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We’re spending far too much on health care, and getting far too little in return.

We live in a country with some of the best hospitals, doctors and medical technology in the world. But the simple truth is that Americans pay too much for health care, and don’t get enough value in return.

We need to get control of health care costs by stopping practices that jack up costs, and we need to start making smarter investments that result in higher-value care. We must implement changes that ensure the health care marketplace is fair, and empower consumers to shop around for the care they need.

To get costs under control and create greater health care value, PIRG’s network of 25 state affiliates, with members and activists in all 50 states, are running these projects and campaigns:

Our campaigns

Fair Rx Drug Prices: Americans spent almost $370 billion on prescription drugs in 2019. To get health care costs under control, we need to tackle the high cost of prescription drugs, and we should start by preventing pharmaceutical companies from manipulating the market. Many of these companies are abusing patent laws to keep low-cost generic drugs off the market — drugs that could save Americans billions of dollars a year. We’re advocating for greater enforcement by regulators to prevent abuses of drug patent laws and greater collaboration between agencies to oversee the drug marketplace and its pricing policies.

End Surprise Medical Bills: Far too often, getting medical treatment in America means coming home with a big bill, ending up with a surprise charge, or in some cases facing a mountain of debt. Unpaid medical bills have become the largest portion of debt that Americans owe to collection companies. In 2017, the median amount of medical debt owed per household was $2,000, and 1 in 5 patients who visited an ER or got surgery found themselves stuck with a surprise medical bill, sometimes totalling thousands of dollars. We’re collaborating with state regulators to end surprise medical bills by fully enforcing a new federal law which bans the practice of sending surprise bills for most out-of-network services. We’re campaigning to close a loophole in that law which allows ground ambulance services to continue to send surprise bills to patients who use them. And for patients facing a pile of medical bills that could drive them into debt, we’re pushing for state and federal laws to give them enough time to sort out complex medical billing problems. We’re also working to protect patients from aggressive debt collection which could result in poor credit and put their financial future at risk.

Watchdogging the health care marketplace: Health care is big business, and investment by private equity firms and consolidation of medical services can lead to both increased costs and lower-quality care for consumers. Mergers and acquisitions among hospitals and physician practices can increase their share of market power, which decreases competition and allows them to keep prices high or drive them even higher. Providers acquired by private-equity firms often have higher operating margins — meaning both uninsured and insured patients will likely pay more for the same care as providers which aren’t owned by these firms. That’s why we’re watchdogging health care mergers, acquisitions and private investments. And where we see changes in the marketplace that could be bad for consumers, we’re calling for greater enforcement of antitrust laws and prosecution of anticompetitive practices.

Top left screenshot from Spectrum News 1, other photos taken by staff
The PIRG approach

Each PIRG health care campaign or project aims to ensure that our health care system delivers the high value care we deserve, and each shares a common approach to making change. Our efforts strive to:

Put the public interest first. American health care is respected worldwide — we’re global innovators in treatments and cures. But if our prices continue to skyrocket, and the value we get continues to lag behind, we won’t see the return on our investment and our health will suffer.

Take a strategic approach. We must think big and act boldly, while at the same time recognizing that progress comes one step at a time. Our focus is on making a difference in public policy and in our lives, not just making a statement.

Build on what works. We have a track record of winning policies, actions and decisions that have resulted in reduced health care costs and better health care outcomes. We know which policies work, how they can be improved, and what it takes to win their approval. But as always, we’re also open to new ideas that work even better.

Work together. We work to unite people from all across the political spectrum around commonsense health care solutions. Everyone, regardless of party affiliation, wants their health care dollar to deliver the best outcome possible. Our advocates in Washington, D.C., lobby members of Congress from both parties. Our advocates in the states build coalitions that include doctors and nurses, religious leaders and educators, and people from all walks of life. Our organizers and canvassers engage hundreds of thousands of people, and our members and activists live in all 50 states.