Plunging ahead despite paralyzing partisanship in the nations capital, senior lawmakers of both parties Thursday proposed legislation to tackle surprise medical bills and other concerns, from prescription drug costs to uneven vaccination rates.The draft bill from Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash.
, echoes a time when health care issues often led to dialogue and cooperation between political parties. Alexander chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, while Murray is the ranking Democrat.We can make progress when both sides are at the table ready to put patients and families first, Murray said in a statement.
Alexander said he wants to bring the bill to the Senate floor in July and get legislation on President Donald Trumps desk.But with Trump threatening to halt all cooperation with Democrats unless House Democrats stop investigating him, the outlook is unclear. Alexander says his bill represents common sense steps — more than 30 specific ideas — that are readily achievable.
Surprise medical bills are the shockingly high charges insured patients can get hit with when a hospital or doctor is not in their insurers network. Earlier this month, Trump held a White House event to declare his eagerness to sign a fix into law.The Alexander-Murray legislation would protect patients by limiting their financial responsibility to their own plans in-network rates, when they receive emergency care at an out-of-network hospital, or when an out-of-network clinician provides services at an in-network facility.
But the legislation remains a work in progress, since lawmakers still have to figure out how hospitals, doctors and insurers would settle the costs among themselves. Insurers and employers who sponsor workplace coverage favor a set formula for calculating fees, while hospitals and doctors are calling for arbitration.
Alexander and Murray have plenty of company on surprise medical bills, since lawmakers in both chambers of Congress have advanced various proposals. A lobbying war has broken out between insurers and employers on one side, and hospitals and doctors on the other, over how to determine payments once patients are no longer liable for out-of-network care.
On prescription drugs, the bill includes a smorgasbord of measures aimed at indirectly lowering drug prices. But none of the proposals would require drugmakers to lower their prices or authorize the government to negotiate better deals.Instead, several sections of the bill would discourage industry tactics long used to delay the launch of lower-priced generic medications.
For instance, branded drug manufacturers routinely file frivolous petitions with the Food and Drug Administration against potential generic competitors, often delaying their entry to the market for months. The bill would empower the FDA to ignore such petitions.Among other provisions, the bill would:— Authorize a national campaign to promote vaccination to prevent disease and control its spread.