Senate surprise-billing legislation advances

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee passed bipartisan legislation June 26 that includes a measure to end surprise medical bills, according to The Hill.

The Lower Health Care Costs Act — which was formally introduced June 19 by Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and ranking member Patty Murray, D-Wash. — addresses surprise medical bills by banning out-of-network deductibles in emergencies, establishing a benchmark for health plan-provider payment disputes and ending unexpected air ambulance expenses.

Under the act, insurance companies would reimburse providers based on the local median contracted commercial amount they pay other providers they contract with in that geographic area, the legislation says. 

As far as ending surprise air ambulance bills, the legislation would limit patients' out-of-pocket costs for air ambulance transport to the in-network cost-sharing amount.

"This is an important step forward in our efforts to end the practice of surprise medical bills," said Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., who has been working with other senators on federal surprise-billing legislation. "It is outrageous that patients do everything they can to ensure that their care is in their insurance network and still open the mail to find huge, unanticipated medical bills. My top priority has been taking patients out of the middle of these payment disputes between health insurance plans and medical providers, and this bill does that." But hospital groups, including the Federation of American Hospitals, have spoken out against rate- setting.

In response to the Senate health committee's vote, Chip Kahn, president and CEO of the hospital federation, said the legislation "unfortunately misses the mark" when it comes to solving the issue of surprise medical bills. 

"While hospitals agree with the overarching aim of the Lower Health Care Costs Act, key provisions of this will ultimately lead to higher prices and fewer options for patients," said Mr. Kahn.

Mr. Alexander told The Hill he hopes the legislation goes before the full Senate for a vote by the end of July.


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