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 Alexander The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Liberal group urges Senate panel to vote against Scalia as Labor secretary Suburban anxiety drives GOP on guns MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayOvernight Health Care: Juul's lobbying efforts fall short as Trump moves to ban flavored e-cigarettes | Facebook removes fact check from anti-abortion video after criticism | Poll: Most Democrats want presidential candidate who would build on ObamaCare Trump's sinking polls embolden Democrats to play hardball Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall 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 SandersChamber of Commerce argues against Democratic proposals for financial transaction taxes Top Sanders adviser: 'He is a little bit angry' Working Families Party endorses Warren after backing Sanders in 2016 MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenThe Hill's 12:30 Report: NY Times story sparks new firestorm over Kavanaugh Working Families Party endorses Warren after backing Sanders in 2016 Warren proposes new restrictions, taxes on lobbying 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 PaulRand Paul: Almost every mass shooter 'is sending off signals' Liz Cheney says world is more stable, 'safer' under Trump Sunday shows preview: Democratic candidates make the rounds after debate 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 McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report: NY Times story sparks new firestorm over Kavanaugh Senator asked FBI to follow up on new information about Kavanaugh last year Congress must reinstate assault weapons ban MORE (R-Ky.) and Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineBolton exit provokes questions about Trump shift on Iran Overnight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine Air Force nominee: Setting up Space Force would be 'key imperative' 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 MurphyThis week: House jump-starts effort to prevent shutdown Senators struggle to get spending bills off ground as shutdown looms Bolton exit provokes questions about Trump shift on Iran 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 BaldwinFederal funding for Chinese buses risks our national security Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall The Trump downturn: Trouble ahead for the US economy MORE (D-Wis.) and Mike BraunMichael BraunOvernight Energy: Trump administration to repeal waterway protections| House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge| Administration takes key step to open Alaskan refuge to drilling by end of year Trump administration to repeal waterway protections Exclusive: Kushner tells GOP it needs to unify behind immigration plan 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.