Bipartisan senators reveal sweeping health care package

Bipartisan senators reveal sweeping health care package
© Greg Nash

A sweeping draft legislative package from the bipartisan leaders of the Senate Health Committee seeks to lower health care costs by addressing surprise medical bills and adding transparency to drug prices, among other provisions.

The bipartisan draft from committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderSticking points force stimulus package talks to spill into Sunday GOP drafting stimulus package without deal with Democrats Senate coronavirus stimulus talks spill into Saturday MORE (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayTrump administration issues guidance scaling back paid leave requirement for small business employees Senate coronavirus stimulus talks spill into Saturday Senate Democrats propose canceling student loan payments during coronavirus MORE (Wash.), the panel’s top Democrat, comes as the pair have been working to find areas of agreement where both parties can take action on health care.

“The steps we are taking on important issues like surprise medical billing, drug prices, maternal mortality, and vaccine hesitancy show we can make progress when both sides are at the table ready to put patients and families first,” Murray said in a statement.

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The package contains nearly three dozen specific bipartisan provisions that will reduce the cost of what Americans pay for health care, Alexander said. It sidesteps controversial issues like ObamaCare repeal, Medicare for All and abortion funding.  

Aside from surprise billing, the package also aims to provide transparency to rebates between drug companies and the pharmacy benefits manager “middlemen.”

The goal is to bring the package to the Senate floor this summer, and Alexander and Murray requested members submit comments on the bill by June 5.

Alexander told President TrumpDonald John TrumpCampaigns face attack ad dilemma amid coronavirus crisis Outgoing inspector general says Trump fired him for carrying out his 'legal obligations' Trump hits Illinois governor after criticism: 'I hear him complaining all the time' MORE earlier this month that he is aiming for a vote in July.

Lawmakers have been moving quickly to notch a bipartisan win on surprise medical bills, and the legislation from Alexander and Murray is now the second major legislative option in the Senate introduced this month.

Trump has urged lawmakers to take action, and administration officials offered lawmakers a list of principles to guide them in forming legislation. Their top priority is to make sure patients no longer receive separate bills from out-of-network doctors.

Unlike bipartisan legislation from Sens. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyTensions boil over on Senate floor amid coronavirus debate  Overnight Energy: Democratic lawmakers seek emissions reductions in airline bailout | House Dems warn Trump against oil industry bailout | GOP senators ask Saudis to stabilize oil market GOP senators ask Saudis to stabilize oil market MORE (R-La.) and Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanDemocrats urge administration to automatically issue coronavirus checks to more people Mnuchin says Social Security recipients will automatically get coronavirus checks Lawmakers press IRS to get coronavirus checks to seniors MORE (D-N.H.), the package from Alexander and Murray does not commit to one particular method of payment options for providers and hospitals. Instead, they ask for feedback on three options, including arbitration.

Doctors, hospitals and insurers have all pledged to protect patients from being hit with massive, unexpected bills for out-of-network care, but no one wants to take on the added costs that come with it.

Elsewhere in the Senate, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyBurr says intelligence watchdog should be 'independent' after inspector general firing Lawmakers press IRS to get coronavirus checks to seniors Pelosi floats undoing SALT deduction cap in next coronavirus bill MORE (R-Iowa) and top Democrat Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus Democrats say more unemployment benefits needed in wake of record unemployment claims Democrats fear coronavirus impact on November turnout MORE (Ore.) are working on their own bipartisan health care package, aimed at lowering drug prices.

Alexander has suggested the two packages could be combined.