Senate will not vote on bipartisan health costs bill before leaving for August

Senate will not vote on bipartisan health costs bill before leaving for August
© Greg Nash

The Senate will not vote on a bipartisan measure aimed at lowering health care costs before lawmakers leave Washington for the August recess. 

Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderChamber of Commerce endorses Ernst for reelection Pelosi huddles with chairmen on surprise billing but deal elusive Senate GOP opens door to smaller coronavirus deal as talks lag MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayPelosi huddles with chairmen on surprise billing but deal elusive House approves two child care bills aimed at pandemic GOP, Democratic relief packages B apart on vaccine funding MORE (D-Wash.) said in a joint statement that the Senate “does not have time before the August recess” to consider the bill. 

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Alexander had pushed for the measure to get a vote this month. Alexander and Murray are now expressing hope that the Senate will vote on the bill upon returning in September. 

“We are engaged in very productive conversations about this legislation with our colleagues in the Senate and the House, and will continue to work during August and into September to move this legislation forward,” they said. 

The Senate Health Committee approved the measure in an overwhelming vote of 20-3 in June, but since then the measure has run into some resistance. 

Powerful doctor and hospital groups have been fighting the measure over its provision aimed at protecting patients from getting massive “surprise” medical bills from out-of-network doctors. 

Doctors and hospitals are worried that the way the provision is set up will end up cutting their payment rates. 

Alexander has been in talks with Sen. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyStimulus checks debate now focuses on size, eligibility On The Money: GDP shrinks by record amount in second quarter amid virus lockdowns | Jobless claims rise for second straight week | McConnell tees up fight on unemployment benefits GOP senators propose stimulus checks of ,000 for both adults and children MORE (R-La.) about changing the surprise billing provision to address some of doctors’ concerns. 

A range of other senators have placed “holds” on the legislation for various reasons. 

Still, there are some signs that the legislation will eventually move forward. 

The package includes a measure sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellProfessional sports players associations come out against coronavirus liability protections Democratic leaders report 'some progress' in talks with White House Top GOP senator urges agencies to protect renters, banks amid coronavirus aid negotiations MORE (R-Ky.) to raise the age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21. The inclusion of that McConnell priority makes it more likely that McConnell will bring the package up for a vote. 

The measure could be combined with other health care measures that face a deadline at the end of September, such as funding for community health centers. 

In addition to that measure and the surprise billing protections, the package includes a range of other provisions such as banning anti-competitive provisions in hospital contracts with insurers that can raise costs. 

Alexander sought to find bipartisan provisions that steer clear of the divisive debate over ObamaCare and have a better chance of passing.