Hoyer: Democratic chairmen trying to bridge divide on surprise medical bills

Hoyer: Democratic chairmen trying to bridge divide on surprise medical bills
© Greg Nash

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerKey races to watch in Tuesday's primaries Overnight Defense: Democrats expand probe into State IG's firing | House schedules late June votes with defense bill on deck | New Navy secretary sworn in House scheduled to return for votes in late June MORE (D-Md.) said Wednesday that two Democratic committee chairmen are trying to work out their differences over a measure that would protect patients from surprise medical bills.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has been pushing for months to pass legislation protecting patients from getting massive bills when they go to the emergency room and one of their doctors happens to be outside their insurance network. That effort was derailed last month when House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealExpanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support House Democrats press Treasury on debit cards used for coronavirus relief payments House Democrats' bill would create a second round of direct coronavirus relief payments MORE (D-Mass.) and ranking member Rep. Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyHouse Republican offers bill to create 'return to work bonus' Expanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support Former Texas Rep. Sam Johnson dies at 89 MORE (R-Texas) proposed an approach that differs from the bill put forward by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and 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 (Ore.), the top Republican on the panel.

“Mr. Neal and Mr. Pallone are talking and the committee members are talking about the differences,” Hoyer told reporters when asked if he or Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump praises 'domination' of DC protesters Pelosi, Schumer say treatment of protesters outside White House 'dishonors every value that faith teaches us' Democrats call for Congress to take action following death of George Floyd MORE (D-Calif.) would step in to try to resolve the dispute. “It's like infrastructure — there's universal agreement that we need to deal with surprise billing. There obviously are differences with respect to how you deal with that, and they're discussing that now.”

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Hoyer added that hopefully they can “resolve those differences and move ahead in a way that will protect patients.”

Backers of the Energy and Commerce bill have been frustrated with Neal for suggesting a move in a different direction, one that could make it difficult to bridge the gap between the two committees despite Hoyer’s comments.

Pelosi has said she hopes surprise billing legislation will be included in a health care package ahead of a May 22 deadline for renewing certain expiring health programs.

But an agreement on the legislation would need to be worked out before then.

A spokesman for Pallone said he had nothing to add to Hoyer’s comments.

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Neal told reporters that the issue was discussed at a chairmen’s meeting with Hoyer on Wednesday morning. Neal said he thinks “some sort of a merger” of his outline and the Energy and Commerce bill could happen, though he did not elaborate.

“We would like a bipartisan bill, we would also like a bicameral bill. We would also like some sort of a merger if possible,” Neal said.

Adding to the complications, the House Education and Labor Committee has been in discussions about putting forward its own bill.The chairman of that committee, Rep. Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottLack of child care poses major hurdle as businesses reopen Unions worry Congress is one step closer to a liability shield Victim advocacy groups, Democratic lawmakers slam new campus sexual assault policies MORE (D-Va.), did not give a firm answer Wednesday when asked if his panel would offer legislation, saying only that they are "still working on it."

"We don't want to put out something that further divides the situation," he added.

Neal and Brady’s approach would be more favorable to doctors and hospitals, who have been lobbying hard against the Pallone and Walden measure, which has the bipartisan backing of Senate Health Committee leaders Sen. 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.) and 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 main point of contention stems from a dispute over how to figure out the amount an insurer will pay the doctor once the patient is protected from surprise bills. The Ways and Means proposal would give that decision to an outside arbiter, while the Pallone, Walden and Senate Health Committee legislation would set the payment rate based on the average payment in that geographic area, with the option to go to arbitration on some higher-cost medical bills.

Doctor staffing companies owned by private equity firms have been running millions of dollars in ads against the Pallone-Walden-Senate Health Committee approach, worried that it would lead to damaging cuts to doctors’ payments.