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

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

Rep. Donna ShalalaDonna Edna ShalalaThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Former NIC Director Greg Treverton rips US response; WHO warns of 'immediate second peak' if countries reopen too quickly Treasury has not disbursed B in airline support: oversight panel We can't afford to let local news die 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 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.) and ranking member Virginia FoxxVirginia Ann FoxxThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: BIO CEO Greenwood says US failed for years to heed warnings of coming pandemic; Trump: Fauci won't testify to 'a bunch of Trump haters' Hillicon Valley: Amazon VP resigns in protest | Republicans eye university ties to China | Support rises for vote by mail Republicans seek information on Chinese ties to US universities MORE (R-N.C.) would harm hospitals in her district. 


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 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 Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyExpanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support Former Texas Rep. Sam Johnson dies at 89 On The Money: McConnell: Talking about fifth coronavirus bill 'in next month or so' | Boosted unemployment benefits on the chopping block | Women suffering steeper job losses from COVID-19 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.”


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.