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 AlexanderSenate GOP chairman criticizes Trump withdrawal from WHO Trump: US 'terminating' relationship with WHO Soured on Fox, Trump may be seeking new propaganda outlet MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayCOVID-19 workplace complaints surge; unions rip administration Lack of child care poses major hurdle as businesses reopen Democratic leaders say Trump testing strategy is 'to deny the truth' about lack of supplies 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 SandersThe battle of two Cubas Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Rep. Ro Khanna Democrats gear up to hit GOP senators on DACA MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThe Memo: Trump ratchets up Twitter turmoil Hillicon Valley: Twitter flags Trump tweet for 'glorifying violence' | Cruz calls for criminal investigation into Twitter over alleged sanctions violations | Senators urge FTC to investigate TikTok child privacy issues Warren condemns 'horrific' Trump tweet on Minneapolis protests, other senators chime in 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 PaulSecond senator tests positive for coronavirus antibodies Senate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks Tim Kaine tests positive for COVID-19 antibodies 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 McConnellSchumer to GOP: Cancel 'conspiracy hearings' on origins of Russia probe Overnight Health Care: Trump says US 'terminating' relationship with WHO | Cuomo: NYC on track to start reopening week of June 8 | COVID-19 workplace complaints surge 10 things to know today about coronavirus MORE (R-Ky.) and Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Health Care: Trump says US 'terminating' relationship with WHO | Cuomo: NYC on track to start reopening week of June 8 | COVID-19 workplace complaints surge 10 things to know today about coronavirus The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Twitter says Trump violates rules with 'shooting' threat 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 MurphyMissouri state lawmaker sparks backlash by tweeting 'looters deserve to be shot' The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Khanna says President Trump threatening violence against US citizens; Trump terminating relationship with WHO Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day 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 BaldwinWarren calls for investigation into OSHA inspections during pandemic Mail ballot surge places Postal Service under spotlight Justice Department investigating meat price increases: report MORE (D-Wis.) and Mike BraunMichael BraunGOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill Hillicon Valley: Trump threatens Michigan, Nevada over mail-in voting | Officials call for broadband expansion during pandemic | Democrats call for investigation into Uber-Grubhub deal Republicans introduce bill to create legal 'safe harbor' for gig companies during the pandemic 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.