It’s one of the few health care bills that has a chance of being signed into law, and conservative groups are fighting it.
A collection of conservative groups is mobilizing to oppose a measure that would ban “surprise” medical bills patients sometimes receive from hospitals and providers when their services aren’t covered by insurance.
Part of the conservative strategy is to link the proposed legislation to “Medicare for All,” the single-payer health care plan favored by some progressive Democratic presidential candidates, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
“There’s not much legislation out there that will make it to the president’s desk this year and this has a chance,” said Brandon Arnold, president of the National Taxpayer Unions, told The Hill. Arnold’s organization has spent more than $1 million attacking the bill.
Arnold warned that proponents of the measure are “going to run into broad opposition from a wide array of conservative groups who are united on this.”
“We plan to have an impact,” he added.
Patients are subject to surprise bills when they go to a hospital or emergency room that is in-network but they are treated by an out-of-network doctor.
Last year, a bipartisan deal was reached by the leaders of the House Energy and Commerce and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees that would essentially ban providers from sending surprise bills and instead require insurers to pay them. The cost would be based on the average price for the services provided, a method called “benchmarking.”
But groups such as NTU say the proposed legislation is similar “price controls” or “rate-setting” that would give the government too much power in the private sector and pave the way for Medicare for All.
About a dozen conservative groups have come out against the bill, including Club for Growth and FreedomWorks. The groups join a fight launched last year by hospitals, insurance companies, doctors and private equity groups that are all trying to move the proposed legislation in their favor.
After facing angry lawmakers and headlines about patients getting saddled with expensive bills, insurers and providers now agree patients shouldn’t be receiving them. But the two sides disagree on who should take the biggest hit if changes to the law are made.
Insurers favor the proposal offered by Greg Walden, R-Ore., the top-ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee as well as Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the ranking member on the HELP panel. The lawmakers had planned to include their bipartisan measure in the 2019 year-end government funding package, but it was left out amid opposition from hospitals and providers and after a rival proposal was offered by the House Ways and Means Committee.
Lawmakers are now pushing to include the proposal in a May spending package, setting the stage for a new round of fights with conservative opponents.