Key House and Senate health leaders reach deal to stop surprise medical bills

Key House and Senate health care leaders in both parties reached a deal on Sunday on legislation to protect patients from surprise medical bills. 

The deal between House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments Obstacles remain for deal on surprise medical bills This week: House impeachment inquiry hits crucial stretch MORE (D-N.J.), Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenConservative groups aim to sink bipartisan fix to 'surprise' medical bills Overnight Energy: Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate impact | Republicans offer details on their environmental proposals | Microsoft aims to be carbon negative by 2030 Republicans offer details on environmental proposals after Democrats roll out plan MORE (R-Ore.), the top Republican on that panel, and Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderSenate braces for bitter fight over impeachment rules McConnell proposes compressed schedule for impeachment trial Juan Williams: Counting the votes to remove Trump MORE (R-Tenn.) is a step forward for the effort, which is seen as a rare area of possible bipartisan action this year. 

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President TrumpDonald John TrumpRouhani says Iran will never seek nuclear weapons Trump downplays seriousness of injuries in Iran attack after US soldiers treated for concussions Trump says Bloomberg is 'wasting his money' on 2020 campaign MORE has also called for action on the issue. The legislation would protect patients from getting hit with massive bills when they go to the emergency room and one of the doctors caring for them happens to be outside their insurance network. 

“I do not think it is possible to write a bill that has broader agreement than this among Senate and House Democrats and Republicans on Americans’ number one financial concern: what they pay out of their own pockets for health care,” Alexander said in a statement. 

The deal also includes other health care measures, such as an extension of funding for community health centers, raising the purchasing age for tobacco to 21 and drug pricing transparency measures. 

Backers of the deal are hoping to include it in a must-pass government funding deal that faces a Dec. 20 deadline. 

There are still obstacles, though. Congressional leadership has not yet signed on to the deal.

There are also still disagreements over the details of the surprise medical billing legislation, with doctors and hospitals lobbying hard on the issue and worried about cuts to their payments. 

It was not yet clear on Sunday whether the lawmakers more aligned with doctors and hospitals would sign on to this deal. 

Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayConservative groups aim to sink bipartisan fix to 'surprise' medical bills Democrats request briefing on intel behind Trump's embassy threat claim Democrats ask if US citizens were detained at border checkpoints due to Iranian national origin MORE (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the Senate Health Committee, also was not listed among the supporters of the deal. 

"Senator Murray believes the overall agreement takes important steps forward on a number of issues impacting patients and families, and is working with some members of her caucus on concerns they still have," said Helen Hare, a spokeswoman for Murray. "She didn't want to sign onto a press release until those were worked through."

Sens. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyBig Pharma looks to stem losses after trade deal defeat Trump trade deal faces uncertain Senate timeline On The Money: Senate panel advances Trump's new NAFTA despite GOP gripes | Trade deficit falls to three-year low | Senate confirms Trump pick for small business chief MORE (R-La.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanCyberattacks against North Dakota state government skyrocket to 15M per month Hillicon Valley: Biden calls for revoking tech legal shield | DHS chief 'fully expects' Russia to try to interfere in 2020 | Smaller companies testify against Big Tech 'monopoly power' Bipartisan group of senators introduces legislation to boost state cybersecurity leadership MORE (D-N.H.), and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetWarren ad claims Trump fears her most Sanders to headline Iowa event amid impeachment trial On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Sanders defends vote against USMCA | China sees weakest growth in 29 years | Warren praises IRS move on student loans MORE (D-Colo.), who had backed a rival bill more favored by doctors groups, released a statement sounding generally supportive of the deal but stopped short of fully endorsing it, saying "final details" needed to be worked out. 

"As our discussions continue around the final details, we are encouraged that we’re one step closer to giving patients these vital protections," the senators said. "Patients have waited long enough, and we remain hopeful that we can get this done by the end of the year.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump admin releases trove of documents on Ukrainian military aid The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions What to watch for on Day 2 of Senate impeachment trial MORE (R-Ky.) released a statement praising the inclusion of his legislation with Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineIran resolution supporters fear impeachment will put it on back burner House war powers sponsor expects to take up Senate version of resolution Sens. Kaine, Lee: 'We should not be at war with Iran unless Congress authorizes it' MORE (D-Va.) to raise the tobacco age to 21 but did not tip his hand on the other provisions. 

“I’m pleased to see bipartisan, bicameral progress continues on solutions to address the teen vaping crisis, primarily through my legislation with Senator Kaine to increase the tobacco purchasing age to 21," McConnell said. “I look forward to reviewing the details on this and the other policies included in the package announced today.”