The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions today voted 20-3 to pass the Lower Health Care Costs Act (S.1895) – bipartisan legislation focused on reducing health care costs. The bill would hold patients harmless from surprise medical bills, but use a benchmark rate to resolve payments between plans and out-of-network providers.
 
During the mark up, Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Mitt Romney, R-Utah, expressed concerns about unintended consequences of using a benchmark rate. Sens. Cassidy and Murkowski specifically discussed how a benchmark rate could threaten access to care in rural areas.
 
The AHA supports protecting patients from surprise medical bills, but has expressed serious concerns with using a benchmark rate to resolve payments between plans and out-of-network providers, which it says would underpay for these services and give insurers few incentives to develop robust provider networks. The AHA also opposes the contracting provisions in the bill, as these would interfere with the private negotiations between providers and plans, and could undermine value-based contracting arrangements and negatively impact access by allowing insurers to cherry pick providers within systems.
 
The committee adopted an AHA-supported bipartisan amendment put forth by Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Mike Braun, R-Ind., that would require drug manufacturers to disclose and provide information related to planned price increases.
 
Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said he hopes the full Senate will consider the bill next month. He said bipartisan additions to the bill could come from the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees, and from legislation approved by the Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce Committees to lower prescription drug costs.

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