Source: Roll Call | Mary Ellen McIntire | June 26, 2019

Sanders, Warren vote ‘no’ by proxy as they head to Democratic presidential debates

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Wednesday approved, 20-3, legislation meant to lower health care costs, although senators suggested that more changes are likely before the floor debate next month.

Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee hopes to bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote in mid-to-late July, which will likely set up a flurry of lobbying and debate among lawmakers over changes to it.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told CQ Roll Call that the package was on the priority list for floor time.

“We haven’t made a decision on exact timing yet, but it’s for early consideration,” the Kentucky Republican said.

Two of the three committee members who voted against the bill — Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — did so by proxy, likely because they are seeking the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination and participating in the Miami debates on Wednesday and Thursday. Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul also opposed the bill.

Surprise medical bills are a frustration for consumers and a growing political issue. The legislation seeks to ban surprise medical bills by creating a benchmark rate for insurers to pay providers in certain cases when a patient unintentionally receives out-of-network care or does so in an emergency. That’s one area where the bill could change before it reaches the floor.

Several committee members are advocating for payers and providers to be allowed to use arbitration if they cannot reach an agreement on their own and raised concerns that the benchmark mechanism could have “unintended consequences,” particularly for rural providers.

The panel adopted by voice vote an amendment by GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana that would require insurers to tell patients if there are categories of providers in which the plan does not have any in-network providers for ancillary services that support doctors, such as radiology or lab work.

Cassidy said earlier in the markup that the current surprise billing language would put all the power in insurers’ hands and could disadvantage doctors or hospitals. He said Alexander pledged to work together on adjusting the bill before a floor vote.

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