Democratic chairman proposes new fix for surprise medical bills

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House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) is proposing a new way to move forward on crafting rules to protect patients from surprise medical bills.

Members of both parties have made it a priority to protect patients from getting massive bills when they go to the emergency room and are treated by one or more doctors who turn out to be outside their insurance network. But the effort has stalled amid a fierce lobbying push from doctors and hospitals. 

{mosads}In a letter to Democratic lawmakers obtained by The Hill, Neal is proposing a new solution that would essentially punt the details of the fix to a committee consisting of stakeholder groups and the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury. The committee would come up with recommendations that would then be issued in a regulation from the administration. 

Neal’s letter was first reported by Politico. 

The move would put off contentious decisions that have been at the center of the lobbying effort from powerful doctors groups. The leading approach, from the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Health Committee, would essentially set the payment rate that insurers pay doctors once the patient is protected, based on the median payment rate in that area. Doctors groups worry that approach would lead to damaging cuts to their payments. 

It is unclear if Neal’s approach will fare better with doctors and hospitals, whose associations did not immediately comment on it on Tuesday. 

Neal wrote in the letter that he is “optimistic” that Rep. Kevin Brady (Texas), the top Republican on the committee, will agree to his proposal. 

“Committee Republicans support banning surprise medical billing to protect patients and look forward to reviewing the details of this and other possible solutions to solve this problem in a balanced way for the American people,” a Brady spokesperson said. 

Families USA, a leading liberal health care advocacy group, expressed some concern with Neal’s proposal, expressing a preference for the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Senate Health Committee approaches. 

“I appreciate Chairman Neal’s interest in getting a bill over the finish line,” Shawn Gremminger, senior director of federal relations at Families USA, wrote in an email. “We are concerned, however, that this proposal just punts the critical and difficult decision making to HHS, where we aren’t confident the industry stakeholders will be any more likely to come to agreement.”

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