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Senate Health Committee advances bipartisan package to lower health costs

Senate Health Committee advances bipartisan package to lower health costs
© Greg Nash

The Senate Health Committee on Wednesday voted to advance a bipartisan package aimed at lowering health care costs to the full Senate.

The measure from Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe spectre of pension failures haunts this election Bitter fight over Barrett fuels calls to nix filibuster, expand court Senate Health Committee chair asks Cuomo, Newsom to 'stop second guessing' FDA on vaccine efficacy MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayWorking together to effectively address patient identification during COVID-19 Plaintiff and defendant from Obergefell v. Hodges unite to oppose Barrett's confirmation Overnight Health Care: Trump takes criticism of Fauci to a new level | GOP Health Committee chairman defends Fauci | Birx confronted Pence about Atlas MORE (D-Wash.), who are known as two of the best bipartisan dealmakers in the Senate, marks a rare bipartisan area of cooperation on the highly divisive issue of health care. 

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The package passed the committee on a vote of 20-3. Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOcasio-Cortez says she doesn't plan on 'staying in the House forever' What a Biden administration should look like Ocasio-Cortez: 'Trump is the racist visionary, but McConnell gets the job done' MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWhat a Biden administration should look like Overnight Defense: Dems want hearing on DOD role on coronavirus vaccine | US and India sign data-sharing pact | American citizen kidnapped in Niger Conservative operatives Wohl, Burkman charged in Ohio over false robocalls MORE (D-Mass.), both strong progressives who are running for president, voted "no" in absentia. Sanders's office said he opposed the bill because it lacked enough funding for community health centers. Warren said that while the bill had "important provisions" it failed to address GOP "sabotage" of ObamaCare or soaring drug costs.  

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTrump says ex-staffer who penned 'Anonymous' op-ed should be 'prosecuted' CIA impeachment whistleblower forced to live under surveillance due to threats: report Rand Paul rips 'leftwing media' for focusing on COVID-19 cases: 'Mortality rates are plummeting' MORE (R-Ky.), a strong conservative, also voted "no." 

Otherwise, the committee was remarkably united. Alexander purposely steered the bill to avoid the polarizing issue of ObamaCare and to focus on other areas. 

The measure protects patients from getting massive “surprise” medical bills when they get care from out-of-network doctors and restricts anti-competitive provisions in insurance contracts with hospitals that can drive up costs.

The package also includes a bill from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: Battle for Senate 'a 50-50 proposition' 'Packing' federal courts is already a serious problem What a Biden administration should look like MORE (R-Ky.) and Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats brace for nail-biting finish to Senate battle Democratic Senate emerges as possible hurdle for progressives  Two Loeffler staffers test positive for COVID-19 MORE (D-Va.) to raise the age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21. The inclusion of that provision, which drew praise from McConnell, could improve the package’s chances of coming up for a vote. 

Alexander said Wednesday that he hopes McConnell will bring the package up for a full Senate vote before the end of July.

The Finance and Judiciary committees are also working on health care packages aimed at lowering drug costs. Alexander said those could be added if they are ready but that he does not want to wait for a full Senate vote for his package past the end of July if other panels' legislation is not ready. 

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyBitter fight over Barrett fuels calls to nix filibuster, expand court Democrats warn GOP will regret Barrett confirmation Democrats brace for nail-biting finish to Senate battle MORE (D-Conn.) pushed to call attention to the Republican-backed lawsuit currently making its way through the courts that aims to overturn the entire Affordable Care Act. He offered an amendment to require a report on the lawsuit’s effects, but Republicans voted it down. 

“Those are issues for another time and another bill and another day,” Alexander said of the debate over ObamaCare. 

Sens. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinInfrastructure, energy investments urgently needed to create U.S. jobs Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing Baldwin calls for Senate hearing on CDC response to meatpacking plant coronavirus outbreak MORE (D-Wis.) and Mike BraunMichael BraunSenators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session Trump is out of touch with Republican voters on climate change GOP to Trump: Focus on policy MORE (R-Ind.) also won a vote to include their provision requiring drug companies to submit justifications for large price increases. Several Republicans voted for the amendment despite the opposition of Alexander, who said he wanted to make changes. 

Updated at 3:16 p.m.