(WASHINGTON) — Rapper Fat Joe wasn’t in Washington D.C., last week for a concert, he came to lobby Congress to call for transparency in hospital billing due to the staggering amount of medical debt many Americans face.
“I look at myself as an evangelist, spreading the word gospel of how important it is to show us the prices,” Fat Joe told ABC News. “Because this is an issue that affects all Americans. This is colorblind. This is religion blind, and I believe in the power of the people.”
For two days, the 52-year-old, born Joseph Cartagena, walked the halls of Capitol Hill, visited the White House and held numerous meetings with lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle.
“I’m out here fighting for the American people,” Fat Joe said. “This is a bipartisan issue.”
There are 100 million American in medical debt, according to Kaiser Health News.
Fat Joe teamed up with the nonprofit Power to the Patients to be a spokesperson a year ago. This is his second visit to Capitol Hill on the issue.
“I grew up in the South Bronx. I grew up in a very deprived poor area.” Fat Joe said. “When I was there, my people fought for me and championed me to get to the level where I’m at. So I have an obligation to speak for the voiceless.”
One in 10 American adults owe medical debt, according to the Peterson Center on Healthcare and the Kaiser Family Foundation. Medical bills accounted for about 40% of personal bankruptcies in 2019, according to the National Institute of Health.
Even as health care costs continue to rise, advocates said hospitals have been reluctant to comply with a federal rule requiring hospitals to list the cost of standard procedures.
“Families deserve to have peace of mind knowing how much their health procedure will cost them ahead of time,” Chair of the Hispanic caucus Nanette Diaz Barragan said during a news conference with Fat Joe at the Capitol last week.
The federal agency tasked with enforcing the rule has imposed fines on four hospitals since former President Donald Trump signed the health care pricing transparency executive order in June 2019. As of April, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has also issued 730 warnings to hospitals who were not in compliance.
However, Power to the Patients research arm said its analysis found that more than 70% of U.S. Hospitals reviewed are still not in full compliance.
“Despite its complexity and lack of clarity hospitals are eager to continue their compliance efforts,” Ashley Thompson, senior vice president of public affairs of the American Hospital Association, said at a congressional hearing.
Fat Joe’s lobbying efforts in Congress coincided with a hearing in the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health.
“We’re considering bipartisan legislation to codify existing price transparency rules for hospitals and insurers,” Anna G. Eshoo, Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Health, said.
Fat Joe believes this bipartisan push to strengthen and enforce the bill is one of many positive signs that this two-day trip to the Hill may actually help bring some change.
“Last year I came it was just one gentleman who came to meet us,” Fat Joe said. “Today was about 25-30 different congressmen and senators and so I feel the momentum.”
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