WASHINGTON- A Senate committee passed a sweeping bipartisan bill that tackles a wide range of big-ticket healthcare concerns.
The legislation aims to prevent surprise medical bills, lower prescription drug costs and raise the nationwide tobacco purchasing age to 21.
“You’ll never get another surprise medical bill for that reason,” says U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee).
Congress and President Donald Trump want to take patients out of the middle when it comes to the unexpected and often pricey charges from a provider that isn’t in their insurance network. Leaving it up to the doctors, hospitals and insurance companies is where the agreement ends.
“First I thought since the problem was out of network doctors, just put them in network,” Sen. Alexander says. “That didn’t work that well.”
Sen. Alexander says the general consensus among Congress to stop surprise emergency bills now seems to be moving toward a benchmark payment system, based on the median price of in-network doctors in the same area.
“So, what a doctor gets paid in Alaska will be very different from what a doctor gets paid outside Miami,” Alexander explains.
Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy supports the benchmark but worries how it’s set by an insurance company with no input from doctors or hospitals. So his bill takes it one step further.
“It does leave an arbitration at the end to determine is this fair,” says U.S. Sen. Cassidy (R- Louisiana).
Their colleague, Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn, worries these changes could still harm reimbursement rates for rural hospitals.
“We want to help them keep those doors open and make certain there is access to that care that is needed in our rural areas,” says U.S. Sen. Blackburn (R- Tennessee).
Alexander says discussions will continue in the weeks to come to make sure there are no unintended consequences. He hopes the Senate will send the legislation over to the House before the August recess.