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Analysis

House Panel Advances Surprise Bill Package

By Jack O'Brien  
   July 11, 2019

The House Energy and Commerce Health subcommittee passed the package Thursday afternoon.

A package of 10 healthcare-related bills, including funding for expiring public health programs and addressing surprise medical billing, was advanced out the House Energy and Commerce (HEC) Health subcommittee Thursday afternoon.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Ranking Member Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., led the effort to pass the bipartisan healthcare package and bring it to the full committee for a vote.

The markup of the bills came less than three weeks after the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee passed the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019, which in part aims to end surprise billing. 

Related: Federal Fix Needed for Surprise Billing, House Panel Told

HEC Committee Chairman Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., praised Eshoo and Walden for leading the bipartisan effort to expand healthcare access and make coverage more affordable.

"I am proud that we have come together to address all of these critical health care issues in a bipartisan fashion – that’s this Committee at its best," Pallone said in his opening remarks.

Related: 'Network Matching' Offers Surprise Billing Solution

The subcommittee earned also received commendations from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) for passing the No Surprises Act, which is the main bill addressing surprise medical billing the House of Representatives.

"The Committee’s draft legislation will go a long way towards protecting patients from surprise medical bills, will help ensure that patients are informed and engaged and will help protect all consumers from escalating costs," BCBSA submitted to the subcommittee. "Furthermore, the draft achieves the appropriate balance of incentives that will help ensure that providers are paid fairly while not enabling specific medical specialists to remain out-of-network, which has led to the challenges the healthcare system faces today around surprise billing."

Related: Texas Is Latest State To Attack Surprise Medical Bills

However, the bill was not without its detractors, as Robert W. Seligson, president of the Physicians Advocacy Institute, expressed his concerns in a press statement Thursday.

Seligson urged the committee to pass legislation that will provide patients with solutions that ensure access but also maintain "fair settlements for insurers and physicians."

“Physicians applaud continued bipartisan efforts to end patients’ responsibility for surprise medical bills but remain deeply concerned that legislation imposing an arbitrary, government-set benchmark to settle disputes will drive even more healthcare consolidation, result in less choice in physicians, and force patients to pay higher prices," Seligson said. “H.R. 3630 cedes control over resolving disputes to insurers, who created narrow physician networks and high-deductible health plans that are root causes of the surprise medical bill epidemic."

Related: Payers, Providers Butt Heads on Surprise Billing Solutions

Outside of surprise billing, the subcommittee also passed legislation that eliminated two years of cuts to Medicaid disproportionate share hospital (DSH) funding.

The move earned praise from Bruce Siegel, MD, MPH, CEO of America’s Essential Hospitals, who said HEC leadership "understand the lasting harm these cuts would inflict on access to vital health care services."

"Looking ahead, we will continue to work with Congress to avert the damage the remaining DSH cuts would cause," Siegel said. "Those cuts — as much as two-thirds of all program funding in later years — would devastate the nation’s health care safety net and undermine trauma care and other lifesaving services on which all people depend."

Siegel added that he also took issue with the subcommittee's approval of benchmarking rates for out-of-network care as part of the No Surprises Act, calling the approach "restrictive."

Jack O'Brien is the finance editor at HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

Photo credit: WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 26, 2019: COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND COMMERCE - US HOUSE REPRESENTATIVE - office entrance sign - Rayburn House Office Building - Image / Editorial credit: Jer123 / Shutterstock.com

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