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On the Hill: Surprise Billing, Health Care Costs

House and Senate panels this month remain focused on work to address balance billing, or surprise medical bills, and health care costs.

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce last week held a hearing on the No Surprises Act, a bipartisan legislative proposal that seeks to protect patients from surprise bills.

The hearing featured testimony from patient advocates, insurer and physician groups, and hospital and emergency providers. The witnesses deliberated the draft bill’s proposal to set a benchmark payment rate equal to the median contracted, in-network rate for a geographic area. The panel also discussed an arbitration-style mediation between insurers and providers and the cost-benefit implications of the policy.

America’s Essential Hospitals sent a letter to leaders of the committee with feedback on the bill.

Meanwhile, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), announced the committee will consider the bipartisan Lower Health Care Costs Act in a June 18 legislative hearing. The legislative package includes measures that aim to end surprise billing practices, reduce prescription drug prices, increase transparency of health care costs, and improve maternal care, among other provisions. Witnesses have not been announced.

America’s Essential Hospitals submitted comments in response to a discussion draft of the legislation. The association opposes efforts to include 340B Drug Pricing Program reporting requirements in the final version of the package.

Alexander plans to hold a committee vote on the Lower Health Care Costs Act before the July Fourth recess.

Single-Payer Proposals

The House Committee on Ways and Means held a July 12 hearing on universal coverage proposals, including Medicare for All legislation. The hearing marked the first time a committee that oversees Medicare policy convened a hearing on universal coverage plans.

The hearing included testimony from patient advocates, research think-tanks, and a former official from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

House Amends Minibus Spending Bill

Last week, the House began deliberations on H.R. 2740, the $987 million spending package that would fund many federal agencies for FY 2020.

The appropriations legislation combines five separate spending bills into one legislative package that would fund the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, Defense, and Education, among other federal agencies.

The House is expected to vote on the spending package next week.

House Energy and Commerce Hearings

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a June 19 hearing on protecting Title X and family planning care. The Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health will hold a June 20 hearing on strengthening health care in U.S. territories.

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About the Author

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

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