House panel advances bipartisan surprise billing legislation despite divisions

House panel advances bipartisan surprise billing legislation despite divisions
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The House Education and Labor Committee on Tuesday approved a bill to protect patients from massive “surprise” medical bills, but not before a vigorous debate that showed the divides within both parties on the issue. 

The vote of 32-13 sent the measure to the full House. But competing proposals must be reconciled before the chamber can vote on the issue, which is a rare area of possible bipartisan action this year. 

In a sign of the unusual divisions on the issue, both committee Chairman Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottHouse passes bill to allow private lawsuits against public schools for discriminatory practices Pelosi: House will stay in session until agreement is reached on coronavirus relief This week: House returns for pre-election sprint MORE (D-Va.) and the top Republican on the panel, Rep. Virginia FoxxVirginia Ann FoxxHouse passes bill to allow private lawsuits against public schools for discriminatory practices Pelosi huddles with chairmen on surprise billing but deal elusive House fails to override Trump veto of bill blocking DeVos student loan rule MORE (R-N.C.), supported the bill, which would protect patients from getting bills for thousands of dollars when they go to the emergency room and one of their doctors happens to be outside their insurance network. 

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“This bill reflects a genuine compromise,” Scott said. “This approach is bipartisan and bicameral.”

But a bipartisan group of lawmakers opposed the measure, instead supporting a rival bill from the House Ways and Means Committee that is more favorable to doctors and hospitals, who have lobbied hard against the Education and Labor approach, worrying they would see damaging cuts to their payments under it. 

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Shalala called the bill “government rate-setting in the private sector,” and a “ham-handed attempt to bend the cost curve.”

Roe said the bill is not “consistent with the American spirit” because it had too much government intervention. 

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The dispute comes down how much the insurer will pay the doctor once the patient is taken out of the middle. 

The Education and Labor approach, which is also backed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Health Committee, would set the payment rate based on the median amount paid for that service in the geographic area, with the option of going to arbitration for some higher-cost bills. 

The rival Ways and Means approach, which is backed by doctor and hospital groups, would instead give the payment decisions to an outside arbiter. 

Unions and consumer group have backed the first approach, warning that the Ways and Means approach risks driving up health-care costs that would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher premiums. The White House also warned against the Ways and Means approach on Tuesday. 

“Arbitration just adds in another layer of administrative cost to our health care system,” said Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalDHS opens probe into allegations at Georgia ICE facility Progressive Caucus co-chair: Whistleblower complaint raises questions about 'entire detention system' Buttigieg, former officials added to Biden's transition team MORE (D-Wash.), the co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a supporter of the Education and Labor bill. “We want the biggest savings for patients.”