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 McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions GOP skepticism looms over bipartisan spending deal On The Money: Biden, Pelosi struggle with end of eviction ban | Trump attorney says he will fight release of tax returns 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 SchumerPoll: Majority of voters say more police are needed amid rise in crime America's middle class is getting hooked on government cash — and Democrats aren't done yet The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate finalizes .2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill 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 CassidyGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate Senators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Optimism grows that infrastructure deal will get to Biden's desk MORE (R-La.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanBiden names new watchdog at finance agency after embattled IG departs The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Officers recount the horror of Jan. 6 Trump says he'd like to see Chris Sununu challenge Hassan MORE (D-N.H.), Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderAuthorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate The Republicans' deep dive into nativism Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDemocrats consider scaling back new funds to fight next pandemic Tech executives increased political donations amid lobbying push Schumer, Tim Scott lead as Senate fundraising pace heats up MORE (D-Wash.).

Other Republicans signing it include Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP skepticism looms over bipartisan spending deal Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal MORE (Texas), the former No. 2 Senate Republican, as well as Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions Graham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate Key Senate Republican praises infrastructure deal MORE (Ohio), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions GOP skepticism looms over bipartisan spending deal Graham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate MORE (S.C.), Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungGOP skepticism looms over bipartisan spending deal This week: Senate starts infrastructure sprint The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands MORE (Ind.) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate finalizes .2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill Senators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session 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 PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions Overnight Health Care: Average daily COVID infections topped last summer's peak, CDC says | US reaches 70 percent vaccination goal a month after Biden's target | White House says CDC can't renew eviction ban Biden, Pelosi struggle with end of eviction ban 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.”