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Key negotiator says deal close on surprise medical bills legislation

Four key House and Senate health care negotiators have an “agreement in principle” on long-awaited legislation to protect patients from so-called surprise medical bills, Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, the top Republican on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, said Friday. 

“Yes, we have four corners agreement in principle, I would tell you. We’re very close to the final wording, but as you know … we got to make sure every word’s what we all agreed upon, but I think we’re really close,” Walden said during an appearance on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” that is set to air this weekend.

“And this is a big one, and no president’s leaned forward more on this issue than Donald Trump,” he added. “I was at the White House when he announced an initiative on this. And so I think I’m pretty confident he’ll sign it.”

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The agreement would be between Walden, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), and Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the leaders of the Senate Health Committee. 

Stopping surprise medical bills is seen as a rare area of possible bipartisan agreement this year. President Trump has called for action and both parties in Congress are working toward a solution as well. The legislation would protect patients from getting massive bills when they go to the emergency room and one of the doctors happens to be out of their insurance network.   

The agreement among committee leaders still needs to be endorsed by congressional leadership in both parties, which remains a question. 

Some lawmakers are pushing for a measure that would be friendlier to doctors and hospitals, who have been worried about cuts to their payments and have been lobbying hard on the issue. That remains an obstacle. 

With the House set to depart Washington for the holidays by Dec. 20, Walden said if leadership blesses the deal, the surprise medical bills legislation “likely” will be wrapped into an year-end package to fund the government.

“It’s hard to move standalone legislation at this point, but I leave that to people with a higher pay grade than I: the leaders of the House and Senate,” Walden said.  

The interview with Walden will air twice on C-SPAN on Sunday, at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

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