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On the Hill: Congress Gathers Information on Surprise Billing, Drug Prices

Lawmakers continue to focus on surprise billing, drug pricing, and other health policy priorities as congressional negotiators work to avoid another partial shutdown of the federal government.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), along with bipartisan members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) and the Senate Committee on Finance, sent a letter to providers and health plan stakeholders with an array of questions about billing practices, as part of ongoing work to address balance billing, or surprise medical bills. Information garnered from the request is intended to shape the group’s draft legislation on surprise medical bills, which Cassidy first released in fall 2018.

Meanwhile, Finance Committee Chair Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the committee’s ranking Democrat, invited seven pharmaceutical companies to testify in a Feb. 26 hearing on high drug prices. Committee leaders invited executives from AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squib, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Pfizer, and Sanofi. This will be the second of a three-part hearing series to examine increases in prescription drug prices.

On Feb. 12, the House Committee on Ways and Means will hold a hearing on the high cost of prescription drugs, and the Senate HELP Committee will hold a hearing on managing pain during the opioid crisis.

State of the Union Recap

During the State of the Union address last week, President Trump mentioned 2019 health care priorities for his administration. He repeated his intention to address the high cost of prescription drug prices and called for greater price transparency from drug manufacturers, insurance companies, and hospitals to help lower costs for patients and consumers.

The speech also announced an initiative to dedicate additional funding toward research to develop cures for pediatric cancers, and Trump outlined his administration’s goal to end the transmission of AIDS and HIV in the United States over the next decade.

Avoiding Another Shutdown

Congressional negotiators have tentatively agreed to fund portions of the federal government for the remainder of the current fiscal year, breaking a protracted impasse before a key deadline. Selected federal agencies have been operating on temporary funding that is scheduled to run out Feb. 15.

The tentative agreement would end extended negotiations over border security funding by providing $1.375 billion for new fencing along the southern border with Mexico, which is far short of the $5.7 billion Trump demanded for a solid wall.

The White House has not announced whether the president supports this agreement. His approval is necessary to avoid another partial government shutdown.

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About the Author

Erin Delaney is the legislative affairs associate at America's Essential Hospitals.

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