Senate Health Committee Draft Legislation Targets Health Care Costs
June 2019 ~
Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee leaders have proposed a legislative health care package, consisting of nearly three dozen provisions, which aims to reduce health care costs for individuals by addressing surprise medical bills, drug price transparency, and pharmacy benefit management.
The package’s sponsors say the draft comes as a result of the Committee’s collective work to find areas of agreement where both parties can take action on health care.
“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 co-sponsor, Senator Patty Murray said in a statement.
“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,” added co-sponsor and HELP Committee Chairman, Lamar Alexander.
Some of the key provisions included in the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019 discussion draft include:
- Ending surprise medical bills with measures like requiring emergency health care to be charged according to patients’ in-network insurance benefits regardless if the care they received is from an out-of-network provider, benchmarking rates for services based on median payment rates in a geographic area, and requiring all individual providers within a hospital to accept the same insurance plans that the hospital accepts.
- Lowering prescription drug costs by increasing competition between drug makers, educating providers and patients on similar generic drugs that can be substituted for more expensive brand name drugs when appropriate, and speeding up the drug development process by eliminating many barriers among drug patents and other loopholes.
- Increasing transparency in the health care market with provisions to make health care costs readily available to patients before, during, and after receiving treatment, and requiring providers and insurers to provide quotes for services to allow patients to shop around.
- Improving public health by increasing vaccination rates, expanding the use of technology-based health care models, providing guidance for localities to prevent obesity, and providing grants for states to reduce maternal mortality.
- Allowing patients easier access to their health records with measures like giving them full electronic access to their own health claims information, increasing interoperability between various health information technology systems, and incentivizing health systems to keep patients’ health information private and secure.
Alexander and Murray are hoping to move the package through the health committee in June and put up the legislation for a vote on the Senate floor in July. Public comments on the bill can be submitted via email (LowerHealthCareCosts@help.senate.gov) through June 5.