Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday that congressional leadership is trying to work out differences between competing measures to protect patients from getting hit with massive, “surprise” medical bills.
The effort is a rare area for possible bipartisan action this year, given that lawmakers in both parties and President Trump say that patients should be protected from getting medical bills for thousands of dollars when they go to the emergency room and one of the doctors in the facility happens to be outside their insurance network.
But the push has set off a lobbying onslaught from hospitals and doctors who warn that the leading approach in Congress would result in damaging cuts to their payments.
The competing factions will likely have to be brought together in some fashion if legislation is to pass.
Sources say that Schumer is sympathetic to the concerns raised by hospitals to the bill that passed out of the Senate Health Committee in June and was led by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).
The Greater New York Hospital Association, in Schumer’s home state, is one of the leading opponents of that bill.
Asked on Tuesday if he supported the Senate Health Committee’s bill and about the hospital association’s concerns, Schumer did not take a side but said that lawmakers are trying to work out the dispute.
“I think we have to do something about surprise billing, and there are two different proposals, and I think the leadership is working that out,” Schumer said.
The dispute is centered on the details of how much the insurer will pay to the doctor or hospital once the patient is taken out of the middle. The Senate Health Committee bill essentially sets the rate that the insurer will pay the doctor, whereas doctors and hospitals support a competing idea that would allow an outside arbitrator to set the price.
Experts have warned that the proposals backed by hospitals and doctors could drive up health care costs.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said Monday that staff members are having “intense meetings” to try to work out an agreement. Staff for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which also has a bill, is meeting with the Senate Health Committee to try to work out an agreement, and backers are trying to get the measure included in a government funding package in December.