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Bipartisan senators urge surprise billing deal's inclusion in year-end package

Bipartisan senators urge surprise billing deal's inclusion in year-end package
© Greg Nash

A group of 27 senators in both parties is urging Senate leadership to include a deal to protect patients from massive “surprise” medical bills in a year-end legislative package now being negotiated.

Leadership of four committees in the House and Senate announced a deal on the legislation last Friday after months of negotiations, but the fate of the bill still hangs in the balance as it is unclear whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBoebert communications director resigns amid Capitol riot: report Urgency mounts for new voting rights bill Senate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster MORE (R-Ky.) will agree to include it in the final package.

“There will never be a broader bipartisan, bicameral solution to ending surprise medical billing and we should deal with it now,” the 27 senators write to McConnell and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerBiden and the new Congress must protect Americans from utility shutoffs 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate Democrats looking to speed through Senate impeachment trial MORE (N.Y.), who has already announced his support for the deal. “Patients cannot wait any longer."

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The letter is led by Sens. Bill CassidyBill CassidyMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Senator releases photos of man wanted in connection with Capitol riot Electoral College fight splits GOP as opposition grows to election challenge MORE (R-La.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanBipartisan group of senators: The election is over Seven Senate races to watch in 2022 Insurers lose multiyear lobbying fight over surprise medical bills MORE (D-N.H.), Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderCongress addressed surprise medical bills, but the issue is not resolved Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayHawley pens op-ed to defend decision to object to electoral votes amid pushback Demolition at the Labor Department, too Hawley, Cruz face rising anger, possible censure MORE (D-Wash.).

Other Republicans signing it include Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCruz, Cornyn to attend Biden inauguration McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Rick Scott will 'likely' join challenge to election results MORE (Texas), the former No. 2 Senate Republican, as well as Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanImpeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP GOP in bind over Trump as corporate donations freeze Trump calls for 'NO violence' amid concerns of threats around inauguration MORE (Ohio), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamImpeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP An attack on America that's divided Congress — and a nation The Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history MORE (S.C.), Todd YoungTodd Christopher Young'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack US Chamber of Commerce to stop supporting some lawmakers following the Capitol riots GOP senator confronted by Trump supporters over electoral challenge: 'The law matters' MORE (Ind.) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyImpeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history MORE (Utah).

McConnell has not commented on whether he supports the deal. A senior Republican aide said over the weekend that Republicans were “reviewing the proposal.”

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMissouri woman seen with Pelosi sign charged in connection with Capitol riots Boebert communications director resigns amid Capitol riot: report Revising the pardon power — let the Speaker and Congress have voices MORE (D-Calif.) is pushing for it to be included, and the White House also supports it, calling for it be passed “swiftly.”

The legislation would protect patients from getting stuck with bills for thousands of dollars for common situations like going to the emergency room and later finding out one of the doctors was outside the patient’s insurance network.

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The measure has provoked fierce lobbying from powerful health care industry groups, though, adding obstacles to passage.

The final measure was moved closer to the position of doctor and hospital groups, who warned that an earlier version would lead to cuts to their payments.

The American Medical Association, the country’s leading doctors group, is still opposing the measure, though, according to a letter to Congress obtained by The Hill.

The letter warned that small physician practices might not be able to receive “fair compensation” under the arbitration process the bill lays out to determine how much insurers will pay doctors once patients are taken out of the middle.

From the other side of the industry fight, a coalition of insurers and employer groups is also opposed, saying the deal is a “gift to private equity firms” that own doctor staffing companies.

The health care consumer group Families USA is urging passage, though. The 27 senators also said the deal provides $18 billion in savings that can be used to pay for extending other programs like community health center funding.

“With the holidays just around the corner and families still reeling from the churn of COVID-19’s unrelenting health and economic devastation, they cannot afford to wait any longer for relief from surprise medical bills,” said Jen Taylor, Families USA’s senior director of federal relations. “They need peace of mind that they will not encounter these outrageous and unfair bills ever again.”