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Lawmakers reach tentative bipartisan deal to tackle surprise medical bills

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Posted: Dec 9, 2019 9:26 AM
Updated: Dec 9, 2019 5:30 PM


After months of stalemate, lawmakers in the House and Senate have finally reached a bipartisan deal to address surprise medical bills.

While the issue is one of the few to enjoy broad cross-party support on Capitol Hill and in the White House, just how to spare Americans from unexpected bills became bogged down amid a lobbying and advertising blitz by the health care industry.

At issue are the bills that patients get after receiving care from out-of-network physicians or hospitals, often in an emergency situation.

These unexpected charges are one of Americans' top health care headaches. Roughly 1 in every 6 emergency room or in-hospital stays generated at least one out-of-network medical bill in 2017, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis.

Insurers favor the government setting a benchmark rate, but hospitals and other providers -- often backed by private equity firms -- strongly support resolving the matter through arbitration.

The deal was reached by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, and Ranking Member Rep. Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon, and Sen. Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee and chair of the health committee.

It would require insurers at minimum pay the market-based, median in-network negotiated rate, according to details released Monday. But if that payment is above $750, the provider or insurer may elect to go to binding arbitration. Patients would only have to pay the in-network rate.

The agreement also covers air ambulances, which can generate very large bills.

President Donald Trump, who called on Congress to address the issue in May, applauded the efforts.

'This compromise reflects the input of doctors and hospitals and is the result of months of delicate work to reach a deal among congressional members and the White House that protects patients,' the White House said in a statement Monday. 'Americans should not be surprised with huge medical bills when they are most vulnerable.'

Senior administration officials have said in the past that they do not support arbitration.

The agreement is not yet a done deal among lawmakers, however. Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the health committee, has not yet lent her support.

'Sen. Murray believes the overall agreement takes important steps forward on a number of issues impacting patients and families,' one of her aides said. 'She's working with members of her caucus on concerns they still have and is very hopeful a final agreement can be reached that's consistent with the goal she's had throughout this process: ending surprise billing without shifting costs back onto patients in other ways.'

The American Hospital Association voiced its displeasure with the deal.

'Unfortunately, unless this proposal is much improved over previous bills that rely on a benchmark rate, it remains highly problematic and would jeopardize patient access to hospital care, particularly in rural communities,' said Rick Pollack, the association's CEO.

The agreement also extends funding for community health centers for another five years, seeks to lower health care costs by increasing price transparency and make it easier for generic and other less expensive drugs to come to market faster. It would also raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products to 21, from 18.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 497790

Reported Deaths: 9917
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34102530
DeSoto31839398
Hinds31837622
Jackson24314377
Rankin21881388
Lee15427234
Madison14525279
Jones13772241
Forrest13412250
Lauderdale11937314
Lowndes10934185
Lamar10470135
Pearl River9431237
Lafayette8454138
Hancock7697126
Washington7365156
Oktibbeha7111129
Monroe6727174
Warren6642176
Pontotoc6609101
Neshoba6606205
Panola6460131
Marshall6386132
Bolivar6266145
Union596094
Pike5784152
Alcorn5633101
Lincoln5417134
George491879
Scott470998
Tippah465381
Prentiss464181
Leflore4627143
Itawamba4596104
Adams4570119
Tate4546109
Copiah445191
Simpson4421116
Wayne438572
Yazoo438586
Covington427394
Marion4216107
Sunflower4215104
Coahoma4115104
Leake407787
Newton380879
Grenada3692108
Stone358464
Tishomingo356391
Attala330289
Jasper328265
Winston313191
Clay306375
Chickasaw296767
Clarke290694
Calhoun277945
Holmes266987
Smith262550
Yalobusha232647
Tallahatchie225251
Walthall217763
Greene215548
Lawrence211140
Perry204755
Amite203954
Webster201645
Noxubee185340
Montgomery179056
Jefferson Davis170642
Carroll167438
Tunica158639
Benton147438
Kemper141241
Choctaw133026
Claiborne131237
Humphreys129038
Franklin119128
Quitman106227
Wilkinson104539
Jefferson94234
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 813481

Reported Deaths: 15179
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1139971910
Mobile722271323
Madison51970686
Shelby37279341
Baldwin37069540
Tuscaloosa34934599
Montgomery33953725
Lee23142240
Calhoun22142470
Morgan20639372
Etowah19758496
Marshall18245300
Houston17302405
St. Clair15912337
Cullman15306290
Limestone15202198
Elmore15075284
Lauderdale14143294
Talladega13715272
DeKalb12569259
Walker11085366
Blount10094174
Autauga9893146
Jackson9789180
Coffee9182189
Dale8859181
Colbert8789200
Tallapoosa7044195
Escambia6732127
Covington6682179
Chilton6587160
Russell625958
Franklin5930105
Chambers5559142
Marion4955126
Dallas4882199
Clarke472782
Pike4719105
Geneva4564126
Winston4473101
Lawrence4264117
Bibb421686
Barbour355475
Marengo334089
Monroe330262
Randolph327063
Butler324794
Pickens313882
Henry310965
Hale309187
Cherokee299957
Fayette290679
Washington250951
Cleburne246958
Crenshaw243575
Clay240367
Macon230562
Lamar215846
Conecuh185652
Coosa178538
Lowndes173761
Wilcox167438
Bullock151744
Perry138040
Sumter131038
Greene125544
Choctaw86927
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A cold front passing through our area overnight will bring into our area some of the coolest temperatures of the season so far. We will see most of the highs this weekend only in the upper 60s to lower 70s. While overnight lows will drop off down into the 40s Saturday night.
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