Healthcare

Coalition of conservative groups to air ads against bipartisan proposal to end ‘surprise’ medical bills

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Conservative groups launched a new coalition on Wednesday to sink a bipartisan proposal in Congress to end the “surprise” medical bills some patients get. 

The Coalition Against Rate-Setting will air ads against the proposal, which would ban providers from sending surprise bills and instead require insurers to pay them.

Patients are subject to surprise bills when they go to a hospital or emergency room that is in-network but are treated by an out-of-network doctor.

Ending surprise bills is a top priority for both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well as for President Trump. 

Under the proposal, offered by Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), the cost insurers pay would be based on the average price for the services provided, a method called “benchmarking.”

But action has been difficult as lawmakers face a high-dollar pressure campaign sponsored by hospitals, insurance companies, doctors and private equity groups that are all trying to tilt the measure in their favor.

The conservative coalition, which includes fiscally conservative groups like the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) and Heritage Action for America, calls the proposal “rate-setting” that meddles in private health care decisions.

The coalition will air digital and video ads through May but has not decided on a final ad budget.

“This coalition is prepared to push back against ill-considered rate-setting proposals and educate lawmakers and the public on the perils of federal meddling in healthcare decisions,” said TPA President  David Williams.

The TPA has already run $500,000 worth of ads in Kentucky, Kansas, Texas and New York on surprise billing. 

The National Taxpayers Union, which is also part of the coalition, spent $1.2 million in ads in December and January against the bill.

Envision and TeamHealth — physician staffing firms backed by Blackstone Group Inc. and KKR & Co. — spent a combined $54 million on ads last year targeting the proposal.

Lawmakers were hoping to attach the proposal to a spending bill that passed in December, but it was left out amid opposition from hospitals and providers and after a rival proposal was offered by the House Ways and Means Committee.

Pallone and Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) are meeting soon to discuss their plans and to find a path forward. 

Pallone and Alexander hope to include their proposal in a funding package that must pass by May 22. 

The Ways and Means proposal would still ban providers from sending surprise bills to patients, but it would let a neutral outside party determine how much the insurer will pay the doctor if an agreement can’t be reached privately.

The proposal is cautiously backed by some of the conservative groups opposing the Pallone-Alexander measure, though they are reluctant to offer their full-throated support until the legislative language is introduced.

“We are encouraged by the Ways and Means proposal and feel that it is a great first step,” said Grace Morgan, director of external relations for the TPA.

“We look forward to working with Ways and Means Committee members to ensure that patients are protected once they release their forthcoming legislation.”

Tags Coalition Against Rate-Setting Donald Trump House Lamar Alexander Richard Neal Senate Surprise Medical Bills

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