Ways and Means Committee announces rival surprise medical billing fix

Greg Nash

The House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday put out its own, rival proposal to protect patients from surprise medical bills. 

The proposal from Reps. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the chairman and ranking member of the panel, comes on top of the deal announced by a different panel on Sunday. That panel, the Energy and Commerce Committee, on Sunday announced a bipartisan deal on surprise medical bills that included the chairman of the Senate Health Committee, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). 

But the rival proposal from Ways and Means could throw an obstacle into speedy passage of legislation. Neal said Wednesday that he thinks his proposal will be better than the Energy and Commerce bill. 

“I’ve been consistent in my career that my approach is better than everybody else’s,” Neal said with a laugh. 

All of the measures have the goal of protecting patients from getting medical bills for thousands of dollars when they go to the emergency room and one of their doctors happens to be outside their insurance network. The subject is seen as a rare area of possible bipartisan action. 

But there are multiple competing approaches for the details of the proposals, with doctors and hospitals lobbying hard to stop the leading bill, from Energy and Commerce, which they worry would lead to damaging cuts to their payments.

The measure from Ways and Means, announced Wednesday, would take a different approach. It would at first let insurers and doctors try to work out payment on their own, and if they cannot come to agreement, an arbitration process would begin. Full text was not yet available. The Energy and Commerce proposal, in contrast, relies in large part on essentially setting a payment rate based on the average price for that service in the geographic area.

A spokesman for Energy and Commerce Republicans on Wednesday defended their committee’s legislation. “The White House backs our bill. Bipartisan House and Senate Committee leaders back our deal. This is the only bipartisan package that can become law, and we need to act now,” the spokesman said.  

Democrats and Republicans had hoped to pass legislation addressing surprise billing this year, but they have a limited number of working days left in 2019. 

Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.), an author of one of the surprise billing measures, said she doubts anything will pass this year because the three committees of jurisdiction haven’t reached an agreement. Only Energy and Commerce has passed a surprise billing measure. A markup in the Education and Labor Committee was delayed in September and hasn’t been rescheduled. 

“Ways and Means hasn’t weighed in yet, and we just have to reach an agreement,” she said, estimating there will be a floor vote in January or February. 

This story was updated at 4:47 p.m.

Tags Donna Shalala Kevin Brady Lamar Alexander Richard Neal
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