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 CassidySenators ask CBO to review options for preventing surprise medical bills Five things to watch for in Trump's 2020 budget Overnight Health Care - Presented by Kidney Care Partners - FDA chief Scott Gottlieb resigns | House Dems to take up drug pricing bills next week | Planned Parenthood, doctors group sue over Trump abortion rule 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 BennetMichael Bennet 'encouraged' in possible presidential bid: report Senators ask CBO to review options for preventing surprise medical bills Court-packing becomes new litmus test on left MORE (Colo.) and Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanSenators ask CBO to review options for preventing surprise medical bills Overnight Health Care: Survey finds 1 in 10 ration medicines to lower costs | Senate Dems call for hearing on Trump abortion rule | Trump health chief backs needle exchanges | Outgoing FDA chief keeps heat on e-cig maker Lawmakers introduce bipartisan bill for 'internet of things' security standards 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.”