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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 AlexanderLamar AlexanderAuthorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate The Republicans' deep dive into nativism Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurraySenate GOP blocks bill to combat gender pay gap OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden suspends Arctic oil leases issued under Trump |  Experts warn US needs to better prepare for hurricane season | Progressives set sights on Civilian Climate Corps Progressives set sights on Civilian Climate Corps program: exclusive 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 SandersSanders won't vote for bipartisan infrastructure deal Bipartisan infrastructure deal takes fire from left and right Politics of discontent: Who will move to the center and win back Americans' trust? MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenAdams, Garcia lead in NYC mayor's race: poll Exclusive: Democrat exploring 'patriot tax' on multimillionaires' wealth McConnell seeks to divide and conquer Democrats 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 PaulFauci to Chelsea Clinton: The 'phenomenal amount of hostility' I face is 'astounding' GOP's attacks on Fauci at center of pandemic message Fox host claims Fauci lied to Congress, calls for prosecution 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 McConnellBipartisan infrastructure deal takes fire from left and right Jayapal to Dems: Ditch bipartisanship, go it alone on infrastructure The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from Biden's European trip MORE (R-Ky.) and Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineThis week: Democrats face fractures in spending fight Democrats mull overhaul of sweeping election bill Overnight Defense: Pentagon details military construction projects getting .2B restored from wall funds | Biden chooses former commander to lead Navy | Bill seeks to boost visa program for Afghans who helped US 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 MurphyBipartisan infrastructure deal takes fire from left and right Democrats mull overhaul of sweeping election bill Rising crime rejuvenates gun control debate on campaign trail 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 BaldwinTo reverse the teaching shortage in low-income communities, give educators incentive to stay Senate Democrats offer bill to scrap tax break for investment managers Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap MORE (D-Wis.) and Mike BraunMichael BraunIU parents protest school's vaccine mandates Rick Scott introduces bill banning 'vaccine passports' for domestic flights Braun-McConnell bill would protect Americans from IRS surveillance 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.