White House backs emerging deal on consumer health costs

The White House is endorsing an emerging bipartisan agreement on a bill aimed at curbing consumer health care costs

House and Senate participants said the measure would establish a system of arbitration aimed at resolving disputes over surprise bills, which can occur when patients are unwittingly treated by providers from outside their insurance networks.

Congress is scheduled to remain in session for two more weeks before adjourning for the year, and it is uncertain if the bill can be approved within that window. During this period, the Democratic-led House will be moving toward approving articles of impeachment against Trump while lawmakers will also work on legislation aimed at preventing a government shutdown and financing federal agencies until next fall.

The measure would limit some out-of-pocket costs for patients facing surprise bills from out-of-network providers. It would let health care providers or insurers seek binding arbitration to resolve disputes over who would have to bear the remaining costs.

It would also take steps aimed at increasing prescription drug price competition. That would include limiting the time that generic drug makers can block competitors from the market, and requiring manufacturers to provide justification for some drug price increases to the government, which would then make that information publicly available.

The agreement was announced Sunday by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate health committee; Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., top Republican on the House panel.

Alexander said in a statement that he doubted a bill could be produced with broader agreement “on Americans' number one financial concern: what they pay out of their own pockets for health care." Pallone said the measure “puts an end to this egregious billing practice," while Walden said Americans are “sick and tired" of the problem and want lawmakers to act.

The top Democrat on the Senate health committee, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, did not join the others in announcing the pact.

In a written statement, a spokeswoman said Murray “is working through members’ concerns" and hoped agreement could be reached to end surprise billing “without shifting costs back onto patients in other ways.”