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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 McConnellWhen it comes to Georgia's voting law, keep politics out of business Pelosi to offer even split on 9/11-style commission to probe Capitol riot Senate GOP crafts outlines for infrastructure counter proposal 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 SchumerOn The Money: Yellen touts 'whole-of-economy' plan to fight climate change | Senate GOP adopts symbolic earmark ban, digs in on debt limit Hillicon Valley: Tech companies duke it out at Senate hearing | Seven House Republicans vow to reject donations from Big Tech Lawmakers reintroduce bill to invest billions to compete with China in tech 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 CassidySenate GOP crafts outlines for infrastructure counter proposal Bottom line Calls grow for national paid family leave amid pandemic MORE (R-La.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanHouse votes to extend ban on fentanyl-like substances Schumer lays groundwork for future filibuster reform To encourage innovation, Congress should pass two bills protecting important R&D tax provision MORE (D-N.H.), Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderSenate GOP faces retirement brain drain The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation - CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality Blunt's retirement deals blow to McConnell inner circle MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayHouse passes bill to combat gender pay gap Schumer kicks into reelection mode Democrats target Trump methane rule with Congressional Review Act MORE (D-Wash.).

Other Republicans signing it include Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCornyn, Sinema to introduce bill aimed at addressing border surge Bipartisan group of senators holds immigration talks amid border surge House votes to extend ban on fentanyl-like substances MORE (Texas), the former No. 2 Senate Republican, as well as Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanHarris casts tiebreaking vote to advance Biden nominee The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - After historic verdict, Chauvin led away in handcuffs How to save the Amazon rainforest MORE (Ohio), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamBipartisan group of senators holds immigration talks amid border surge Senate GOP keeps symbolic earmark ban Overnight Energy: Biden reportedly will pledge to halve US emissions by 2030 | Ocasio-Cortez, Markey reintroduce Green New Deal resolution MORE (S.C.), Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungHillicon Valley: Tech companies duke it out at Senate hearing | Seven House Republicans vow to reject donations from Big Tech Lawmakers reintroduce bill to invest billions to compete with China in tech 'Building Back Better' requires a new approach to US science and technology MORE (Ind.) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneySenate panel greenlights sweeping China policy bill The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Tensions rise as U.S. waits for Derek Chauvin verdict Mark Halperin hired by bipartisan policy group No Labels 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 PelosiOvernight Health Care: Biden: US to hit 200M vaccine target on Wednesday | House Dems to unveil drug pricing measure ahead of Biden package | FDA finds multiple failures at J&J plant House Dems to unveil drug pricing measure ahead of Biden package House Democrats eye passing DC statehood bill for second time 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.”