Key lawmakers announce bipartisan surprise billing deal

A bipartisan agreement on surprise billing has been reached after weeks of gridlock.

Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., announced their agreement Dec. 8. The proposed legislation, called the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019, would create a new dispute resolution system that would replace balance billing with arbitration. The senators didn't elaborate further on what that system of arbitration would look like.

Additionally, the act would earmark $20 billion in funding for 1,400 community health centers over the course of five years; lower prescription drug costs; and raise the minimum smoking age to 21.

The senators urged a quick vote on the legislation: "It is long past time that Congress protect patients and families from the devastating financial toll of surprise medical bills, and this agreement puts an end to this egregious billing practice," Mr. Pallone said. "I'm hopeful that this bipartisan, bicameral agreement can be voted on quickly so that it can be signed into law before the end of the year."

However, the American Hospital Association was quick to ask legislators to "not rush a solution" to end surprise medical billing.

"Unfortunately, unless this proposal is much improved over previous bills that rely on a benchmark rate, it remains highly problematic and would jeopardize patient access to hospital care, particularly in rural communities," the AHA said. "An arbitrary rate gives insurers an incentive to remove hospitals from their networks and force artificially low reimbursement rates, which limits access. Moreover, such proposals would provide a huge windfall to commercial insurance companies at the expense of the nation's community hospitals."

More articles on healthcare finance:
Mayo Clinic Health System to close hospital in 2020
UPMC to close hospital in 2020
Rural hospital closures hit record high in 2019 — here's why

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