Dem embraces GOP health proposal

A centrist Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee has endorsed two Republican proposals requiring hospitals to disclose their prices, pitting him against other Democrats on the panel who are pushing a much broader bill.


Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) hopes to bring other Democrats with him, arguing a scaled-down approach stands a better chance of becoming law than the Democratic proposal, which would apply to all healthcare providers, including hospitals, physicians, pharmacies, drug makers and insurers.

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“If you try to take everything on,” Green said, “you usually get nothing.”

The panel’s Health subcommittee is holding a hearing on all three bills Thursday morning. Some lobbyists following the issue view the hearing as little more than a chance for lawmakers to make the case that they’re looking out for consumers’ interests; one Republican health consultant says he’s “skeptical [transparency] legislation will pass the Congress.”

Democrats on the panel are expected to focus their attention on a broad measure championed by Rep. Steve Kagen (D-Wis.) and co-sponsored by 54 Democrats.

The Kagen bill applies to any healthcare provider and would require it to “publicly disclose, on a continuous basis, all prices … [including] all wholesale, retail, subsidized, discounted or other such prices.”

A spokeswoman for Kagen said discussions about the bill are in the “very early stages.” She did not believe the bill had been scored yet.

“This is just pushing for greater transparency across the board,” the spokeswoman said.

Green said he hopes to persuade other Democrats on the panel that the small-scale approach makes more sense. One of the bills he has co-sponsored has the support of the American Hospital Association (AHA).

Kagen’s spokeswoman said one purpose of the hearing was to search for common ground, so it’s possible a more restrictive bill could emerge.

Already, the industry group America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) is criticizing the Democratic proposal to publicize discounts negotiated between providers and health plans.

“One area of concern is if competitive information is released, that could have the unintended consequence of raising prices,” said AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach.

Still, he added, the insurance industry favors greater transparency because the industry feels that shining a spotlight on what different hospitals and physicians charge for the same procedure will lead them to lower their prices. He also pointed out that large portions of the transparency bills, particularly as they affect insurance plans, are duplicate provisions that are already in the new health reform law.

Green said Kagen’s effort is likely to come under fire from healthcare groups and could end in failure.

He has instead co-sponsored two Republican alternatives.

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Green said Rep. Michael Burgess’s (R-Texas) proposal requiring transparency in hospital charges and estimated patient out-of-pocket costs largely mirrors an amendment he helped get passed during the Energy and Commerce markup of the House healthcare reform bill. The provision was not included in the Senate health reform bill that became law.

A spokeswoman for the AHA tells The Hill that the group supports the bill and that Steven Summers, president and CEO of the Colorado Hospital Association, will testify on behalf of the AHA at the hearing on Thursday. Other healthcare organizations are likely not to oppose the Burgess-Green bill since it only affects hospitals. The measure is also co-sponsored by Energy and Commerce ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar.

None of the transparency bills has a Senate companion, but Green said that while he’s “not holding my breath” that the Senate will take up the Burgess-Green measure, “we ought to tell the Senate that we feel strongly enough [about transparency] that we are passing it as a separate measure.”

Green is also a co-sponsor of a bill introduced by Barton that would have states require disclosure of prices and quality at hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who also sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee, is a co-sponsor of the Barton measure.