On May 23, Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) released the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019--bipartisan discussion draft legislation to reduce health care costs.
"There's one issue I hear a lot about from Tennesseans, and it is, 'What are you going to do about the health care costs I pay for out of my own pocket?' Well, we've got an answer," said Chairman Alexander. "Republicans and Democrats in the United States Senate have announced this proposal of nearly three dozen specific bipartisan provisions that will reduce the cost of what Americans pay for health care. These are common sense steps we can take, and every single one of them has the objective of reducing the health care costs that you pay for out of your own pocket. We hope to move it through the health committee in June, put it on the Senate floor in July and make it law."
"The steps we are taking on important issues like surprise medical billing, drug prices, maternal mortality, and vaccine hesitancy show we can make progress when both sides are at the table ready to put patients and families first," said Ranking Member Murray. "I appreciate the work Democrats and Republicans on our committee are doing and encourage Republicans to continue working with us on the many other health care challenges families face today--including threats to protections for pre-existing conditions as a result of President Trump's health care sabotage."
Since last Congress, the Senate health committee has held five hearings on how to reduce health care costs and four hearings to explore the costs of prescription drugs.
At the conclusion of the last Congress, Chairman Alexander sent to the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution, governors, state insurance commissioners, doctors, hospitals, patients, and innovators a letter asking for specific recommendations about what Congress could do to help lower the cost of health care services. The Senate health committee plans to mark up this legislation, which is based on those hearings and recommendations, by the end of June.
The Chairman and Ranking Member also commit to continuing to work on two policies with the aim of inclusion in the June markup: the Prescription Drug Rebates Reform Act of 2019, introduced by Senators Romney and Braun, and the Fair Accountability and Innovative Research (FAIR) Act, introduced by Senators Baldwin, Braun, Smith, and Murkowski.
The Senate health committee is requesting comments on the discussion draft. Comments must be submitted to LowerHealthCareCosts@help.senate.gov by 5 PM on Wednesday, June 5, to be considered.
Read the text of the draft bill here.
Read the Section by Section of the draft bill here.
Read the one-pagers for each title of the draft bill:
AHA Statement On Senate Help Committee Draft Legislation On Health Care Costs
Tom Nickels, Executive Vice President, American Hospital Association:
May 23, 2019 - The AHA applauds Chairman Alexander, Ranking Member Murray and the Senate HELP Committee for their interest in addressing the cost of health care in America, a critically important issue for patients and their families and the providers that care for them. Hospitals and health systems understand the importance of making health care more affordable for everyone and have been addressing the issue head on, including redesigning care and improving quality and health outcomes.
We are pleased that the committee proposes making important investments in public health, including efforts to modernize the public health data system and improving maternal health outcomes. We are also supportive of provisions aimed at increasing competition in the prescription drug market and ensuring patient access to these drugs.
Based on our initial review, however, we are concerned about several of the proposals that would allow the government to intrude into private commercial contracts between providers and insurers. Specifically, banning so-called "all or nothing" clauses could lead to even more narrow networks with fewer provider choices for patients, while adversely affecting access to care at rural and community hospitals.
Finally, we continue to work with Congress on a solution to stop surprise bills by removing patients from the middle of reimbursement disputes. Our preferred solution is simple: patients should not be balance billed for emergency services, or for services obtained in any in-network facility. They should therefore have certainty regarding their cost-sharing obligations based on an in-network amount. We strongly oppose approaches that would impose arbitrary rates on providers, along with untested proposals such as bundling payments, which would be unworkable and would do nothing to solve the issue of surprise billing.
The AHA will continue to review this draft legislation closely and looks forward to working with the committee.