Top Republican rejects Democratic chairman's approach to stopping surprise medical bills

Top Republican rejects Democratic chairman's approach to stopping surprise medical bills
© Greg Nash

The top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday rejected a proposal from the Democratic chairman of the panel to protect patients from surprise medical bills, saying a different approach is needed to solve the problem. 

“I think we ought to go back to the drawing board rather than pursue that,” Rep. Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyPelosi not invited by Trump to White House coronavirus relief bill's signing Democrat refuses to yield House floor, underscoring tensions on coronavirus vote Democratic leaders say trillion stimulus will pass House on Friday MORE (R-Texas) told reporters when asked about the proposal from Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealJudge puts new hold on Democrats' lawsuit seeking Trump tax returns MA lawmakers press HHS secretary on status of state's protective equipment Senators offer bill to extend tax filing deadline MORE (D-Mass.). 

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The disagreements on the Ways and Means Committee illustrate how divisive the issue is and how many competing approaches there are, even though both parties say that they want to solve the problem. 

All of the measures seek to protect patients from being stuck with massive medical bills when they get care from doctors outside their insurance network in the emergency room or other locations. But the effort is stalled amid a fierce debate over how to figure out how much the insurer should then pay the doctor or hospital once the patient is protected, with intense lobbying from doctors and hospitals against getting pay cuts.

Neal proposed late last month to essentially punt the problem to a committee of stakeholder groups and administrative agencies to come up with a solution. That proposal drew criticism even from some Democrats as not addressing the problem directly, but Neal said at the time that he was “optimistic” Brady would support it. 

Now, Brady is rejecting Neal’s idea, raising questions about what the path forward is. 

“I have yet to see how that would work anywhere in what we're trying to achieve for ending surprise medical billing,” Brady said. 

Brady seemed to say that as an alternative approach, he supports allowing for an arbitration process as a backstop to give doctors a way to appeal payment rates that they view as too low, though he did not get into specifics. 

Doctors' groups are lobbying to allow for an arbitration process, which they think will give them fairer payment rates.

Brady made the comments while standing next to Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenGOP lawmaker: US will see improvement on virus 'in a couple of weeks' Pelosi not invited by Trump to White House coronavirus relief bill's signing CARES Act delivers on our health care needs in a big way MORE (R-Ore.), the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has its own bipartisan bill to address surprise billing that has already passed out of the panel. Brady and Walden had called the press availability to criticize Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSunday shows preview: Lawmakers, state governors talk coronavirus, stimulus package and resources as pandemic rages on Attacking the Affordable Care Act in the time of COVID-19 DC argues it is shortchanged by coronavirus relief bill MORE’s (D-Calif.) measure to lower drug prices, which they warn would hinder the invention of new drugs to treat diseases. 

On surprise billing, Neal and Brady are working on their own approach, though, rather than endorsing the Energy and Commerce bill, adding to the complications. 

"We’re still working in a bipartisan way and exploring all options to find a solution," said Erin Hatch, a Neal spokeswoman, when asked to respond to Brady's comments. 

Walden made the case for his panel’s surprise billing measure. “It needs to get through the process,” he said. “We passed it in July unanimously.”