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 AlexanderLamar AlexanderMcConnell gets GOP wake-up call The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats return to disappointment on immigration Authorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 CDC leader faces precarious political moment Schumer ramps up filibuster fight ahead of Jan. 6 anniversary 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 CassidyBill CassidyBipartisan lawmakers announce climate adaptation bill ​​Democrats make voting rights push ahead of Senate consideration Sunday shows - Voting rights legislation dominates 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 McConnellSchumer requests Senate briefing on Ukraine amid Russia tensions Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law There is a bipartisan path forward on election and voter protections 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.