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 PalloneFederal watchdog finds cybersecurity vulnerabilities in FCC systems Overnight 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 MORE (D-N.J.), Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenBipartisan senators call for investigation of TikTok's child privacy policies Hillicon Valley: Facebook permanently shifting thousands of jobs to remote work | Congressional action on driverless cars hits speed bump during pandemic | Republicans grill TikTok over data privacy concerns Top Commerce Republicans grill TikTok parent company MORE (R-Ore.), the top Republican on that panel, and Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderSenate GOP chairman criticizes Trump withdrawal from WHO Trump: US 'terminating' relationship with WHO Soured on Fox, Trump may be seeking new propaganda outlet MORE (R-Tenn.) is a step forward for the effort, which is seen as a rare area of possible bipartisan action this year. 

ADVERTISEMENT
President TrumpDonald John TrumpFauci says his meetings with Trump have 'dramatically decreased' McEnany criticizes DC mayor for not imposing earlier curfew amid protests Stopping Israel's annexation is a US national security interest 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 MurrayCOVID-19 workplace complaints surge; unions rip administration Lack of child care poses major hurdle as businesses reopen Democratic leaders say Trump testing strategy is 'to deny the truth' about lack of supplies 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 CassidyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US virus deaths exceed 100,000; Pelosi pulls FISA bill Stakes high for Collins in coronavirus relief standoff Pass the Primary Care Enhancement Act MORE (R-La.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanSenators ask DeVos to adjust FAFSA form due to the coronavirus pandemic The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump spotted wearing a face mask Sen. Shaheen tells Biden campaign she does not want to be vetted for VP MORE (D-N.H.), and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetWarren condemns 'horrific' Trump tweet on Minneapolis protests, other senators chime in Senate Democrat introduces bill to protect food supply Congress headed toward unemployment showdown 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 McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump tweets as tensions escalate across US This week: Senate reconvenes as protests roil nation amid pandemic For city parks: Pass the Great American Outdoors Act now MORE (R-Ky.) released a statement praising the inclusion of his legislation with Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Health Care: Trump says US 'terminating' relationship with WHO | Cuomo: NYC on track to start reopening week of June 8 | COVID-19 workplace complaints surge 10 things to know today about coronavirus The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Twitter says Trump violates rules with 'shooting' threat 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.”