GOP senator: Legislation combating surprise medical bills could come in March

GOP senator: Legislation combating surprise medical bills could come in March
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of senators working on legislation to stop patients from getting massive, surprise medical bills is hoping to release new legislation by the end of March, a senator says.

Sen. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyLawmakers introduce bipartisan bill to allow new parents to advance tax credits Overnight Health Care: Crunch time for Congress on surprise medical bills | CDC confirms 47 vaping-related deaths | Massachusetts passes flavored tobacco, vaping products ban Crunch time for Congress on surprise medical bills MORE (R-La.), one of the leaders of the effort, said Thursday that “our goal” is to release a new piece of legislation by the end of March.

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Cassidy is working with a group of lawmakers, including Democratic Sens. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetSenators urge FERC to protect critical infrastructure from Huawei threats Krystal Ball: What Harris's exit means for the other 2020 candidates Democrats hit gas on impeachment MORE (Colo.) and Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanSenators sound alarm on dangers of ransomware attacks after briefing Biden reveals four women he could pick as his running mate Hillicon Valley: Progressives oppose funding bill over surveillance authority | Senators call for 5G security coordinator | Facebook gets questions over location tracking | Louisiana hit by ransomware attack MORE (N.H.), to put together the bipartisan legislation.

Lawmakers are pushing to prevent instances like that of a teacher in Texas whose story went viral last year after he got a $108,951 bill from the hospital after his heart attack because the hospital was not in his insurance network.

Legislation to protect patients from surprise medical bills is seen as one of the most likely areas for bipartisan action on health care this year.

Hassan and Cassidy’s group last year proposed separate bills to protect patients from surprise medical bills.

But now Hassan and Cassidy’s group are working together on one, revised bill, giving a boost to the effort.

“I am pleased that we are all working together across party lines to draft a bill that will help end the absurd practice of surprise medical bills and take the patient out of the middle of these disputes,” Hassan said in a statement.

The lawmakers have gathered feedback from industry groups and are now figuring out the details of a revised bill.

Industry groups are jockeying over the legislation to ensure they do not take a huge financial hit, with insurance companies largely on one side and hospitals and doctors largely on the other.

Any legislation would cap the amount that patients have to pay, but the key question then is how much the insurer has to pay the doctor or hospital, and how that amount is determined.

Cassidy said Thursday that using arbitration to determine that payment is now “one of the things we've talked about.” Lawmakers said a range of options are still being discussed, though. 

“Providers and insurers are bringing us some really good ideas,” Cassidy told reporters. “It is very much evolving.”

“We’ve received more than two dozen letters from providers, insurers, employers, and consumer groups,” Bennet said in a statement. “Now we’re sorting through the feedback and considering several frameworks for the next version of the legislation, all with the goal of ending surprise medical bills and creating more transparency for patients.”