Leaders of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions today released the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019 – bipartisan discussion draft legislation focused on reducing health care costs. Among other areas, the bill would take steps to end surprise medical bills, reduce the prices of prescription drugs, improve transparency in health care, boost public health, and improve the exchange of health information technology.

In a statement, AHA Executive Vice President Tom Nickels said, “The AHA applauds Chairman Alexander, Ranking Member Murray and the Senate HELP Committee for their interest in addressing the cost of health care in America, a critically important issue for patients and their families and the providers that care for them. Hospitals and health systems understand the importance of making health care more affordable for everyone and have been addressing the issue head on, including redesigning care and improving quality and health outcomes. 

“We are pleased that the committee proposes making important investments in public health, including efforts to modernize the public health data system and improving maternal health outcomes. We are also supportive of provisions aimed at increasing competition in the prescription drug market and ensuring patient access to these drugs. 

“Based on our initial review, however, we are concerned about several of the proposals that would allow the government to intrude into private commercial contracts between providers and insurers. Specifically, banning so-called “all or nothing” clauses could lead to even more narrow networks with fewer provider choices for patients, while adversely affecting access to care at rural and community hospitals. 

“Finally, we continue to work with Congress on a solution to stop surprise bills by removing patients from the middle of reimbursement disputes. Our preferred solution is simple: patients should not be balance billed for emergency services, or for services obtained in any in-network facility. They should therefore have certainty regarding their cost-sharing obligations based on an in-network amount. We strongly oppose approaches that would impose arbitrary rates on providers, along with untested proposals such as bundling payments, which would be unworkable and would do nothing to solve the issue of surprise billing.

“The AHA will continue to review this draft legislation closely and looks forward to working with the committee.” 
 

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