Committees reach bipartisan deal to protect patients from surprise medical bills

Committees reach bipartisan deal to protect patients from surprise medical bills
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Four congressional committees on Friday reached a bipartisan deal on legislation to protect patients from massive "surprise" medical bills after a series of tense negotiations. 

The agreement is a milestone in a roughly two-year long effort to pass legislation to protect patients from what is widely seen as an especially egregious practice in American health care. 

Backers of the deal are hoping to include it in the year-end spending package slated to go through Congress next week.

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The deal was struck by the leaders in both parties of the Senate Health and House Energy and Commerce, Education and Labor and Ways and Means Committees, though it would still need buy-in from leadership to be added to the year-end package.

The legislation would protect patients from receiving medical bills for thousands of dollars after routine occurrences like going to the emergency room and getting care from a doctor that is outside the patient's insurance network.

The Hill reported earlier this week that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealPelosi: Build Back Better may need to be 'more limited,' renamed Judge dismisses Trump suit to block Congress from getting tax returns Child tax credit expiration adds pressure for Democrats MORE (D-Mass.) was a roadblock to an agreement, as he held out for his own approach and clashed with the other three committees. 

But the deal eventually came together after House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi says she's open to stock trading ban for Congress Manchin: Biden spending plan talks would start 'from scratch' Reps. Massie, Grijalva test positive for COVID-19 MORE (D-Calif.) spoke to Neal and helped restart talks. 

Pelosi praised the agreement in a statement and said: "The House will push for this critical legislation to end surprise billing to be passed as part of the end-of-year package.”

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats calls on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Predictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure Voting rights and Senate wrongs MORE (D-N.Y.) said he supported the agreement. "There is now a consensus path forward on how to fix a broken system that harms patients," he said. "I hope to see it passed into law as soon as possible.” 

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden stiff arms progressives on the Postal Service Biden clarifies any Russian movement into Ukraine 'is an invasion' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks MORE did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

 
 The legislation does move much closer to Neal's position. It uses a method known as arbitration to determine how much insurers pay doctors once patients are protected. That is the method favored by doctor and hospital groups, as well as Neal.

Insurers, unions and consumer groups had favored a different approach, used by the other three committees, that would have set the payment rate based on the median rate paid for services in that geographic area. They said that approach would have saved consumers and the government more money compared to Neal's approach. 

The details of these payment systems have been the subject of intense lobbying for months, which helped hold up an agreement for more than a year. 

It is still unclear how powerful doctor and hospital groups will respond.