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Ex-HHS chief threatens to vote 'no' on surprise medical billing measure

Ex-HHS chief threatens to vote 'no' on surprise medical billing measure
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Rep. Donna ShalalaDonna Edna ShalalaBiden's new challenge: Holding Trump accountable Trump, Florida complicate Biden approach to Cuba Florida Rep.-elect Elvira Salazar tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (D-Fla.), a former secretary of Health and Human Services, said Friday she plans to vote against a bipartisan measure to protect patients from surprise medical bills unless it is changed. 

The comments from Shalala are a sign of the divisions within both parties over the legislation.

Shalala said she is worried the bill from House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottDeLauro wins Steering Committee vote for Appropriations chair National reading, math tests postponed to 2022 amid coronavirus surge Trump officials approve Georgia plan to remove healthcare.gov as enrollment option MORE (D-Va.) and ranking member Virginia FoxxVirginia Ann FoxxREAD: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results Republicans vent over surprise Trump move on COVID-19 relief Lobbying world MORE (R-N.C.) would harm hospitals in her district. 

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The bill is slated for a vote in committee next week, and Shalala indicated other lawmakers have concerns as well. 

Protecting patients from getting massive bills when they go to the emergency room and one of the doctors is outside their insurance network is seen as a rare area of bipartisan action this year. But the effort has been slowed by an array of competing proposals and intense lobbying from doctors and hospitals, who worry it would lead to damaging cuts to their payments.

Shalala said that she instead supports a rival proposal, more favorable to doctors and hospitals, that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealIRS says start of tax filing season delayed until Feb. 12 On The Money: Twenty states raise minimum wage at start of new year | Trade group condemns GOP push to overturn Biden victory | Top Democrat: Georgia runoffs will influence push for ,000 checks Top Democrat: Outcome of Georgia runoffs will influence push for ,000 checks MORE (D-Mass.) and ranking member Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyGrowing number of lawmakers test positive for COVID-19 after Capitol siege Overnight Health Care: US sets record for daily COVID-19 deaths with over 3,800 | Hospitals say vaccinations should be moving faster | Brazilian health officials say Chinese COVID vaccine 78 percent effective The Hill's Morning Report - A dark day as Trump embraces 'special' rioters MORE (R-Texas) also unveiled on Friday.

Shalala said she will seek to amend the bill next week but hasn't worked out the details of her amendment given that she was only just shown the legislation. 

“I have problems with it because it's not balanced,” Shalala said of the Education and Labor proposal. “What I mean by that is the insurance companies are the big winners, the hospitals in my district and their employees get hurt and they’re the largest employers in my district. I can't support a bill that will hurt the hospital workers in my district.”

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Asked to respond, a spokesperson for Scott said, “There is broad consensus around the approach the Committee proposed today both within the Committee, as well as with our colleagues in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Senate [Health, Education, Labor and Pensions] Committee.”

The main dispute is over how much the insurer will pay the doctor or hospital once the patient is taken out of the middle. 

The Energy and Commerce and Education and Labor bills would both set the payment rate based on the median payment for that service in the geographic area, with the option of going to arbitration for some high-cost bills. 

In contrast, the Ways and Means bill gives the decision on payment to an outside arbiter, an approach more favored by doctors and hospitals but that has drawn criticism from the AFL-CIO and the consumer group Families USA as doing less to lower health care costs. 

Neal defended his bill on Friday by pointing to the importance of not angering hospitals. “We think that it’s a good foundation,” Neal said. “We think that it's patients first. Everybody's got big hospitals [in their districts].”

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) said Friday he thinks he can work with Ways and Means, but wants to make sure the final bill saves taxpayers money and does not raise premiums.