- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2019

Senators announced a bipartisan plan Thursday to tackle “surprise” medical billing, speed generic drugs to market and promote vaccines, looking to forge common ground beyond the contentious battlefield of Obamacare.

The proposal from Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander and Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the committee, would authorize grants to tackle obesity and pregnancy-related deaths and make it easier for patients to comparison-shop when buying drugs, while barring manufacturers from gaming the patent system to preserve monopolies on high-priced medicines.

It answers Mr. Trump’s call for measures that would allow patients to pay in-network prices when they’re routed to an emergency room that is outside their coverage package. And it gives Senate Republicans the chance to seize Mr. Trump’s push to make the GOP the “party of health care.”

“These are common-sense steps we can take, and every single one of them has the objective of reducing the health care costs that you pay for out of your own pocket,” Mr. Alexander said.

He predicted committee action in June and floor passage in July.

A White House official said it was a “great first step” in meeting Mr. Trump’s demand for Congress to step up and tackle drug prices, billing practices and out-of-control health costs — and “exactly what the American people want Congress to do.”

The bill also could be a test of Mr. Trump’s demand this week that Congress choose between investigating him or striking bipartisan deals.

“It is not possible for them to investigate and legislate at the same time. Their heart is not into Infrastructure, lower drug prices, pre-existing conditions and our great Vets,” Mr. Trump tweeted Thursday. “All they are geared up to do, six committees, is squander time, day after day, trying to find anything which will be bad for me.”

A Senate aide said Mr. Trump appeared to be fuming at Democrats who control the House, leaving space for momentum in the upper chamber, where the filibuster demands bipartisan backing for major legislation.

The president said this month that Mr. Alexander’s health care effort looked “fantastic.”

Mr. Alexander, Tennessee Republican, and Mrs. Murray, of Washington, drafted the health bill as a reboot of their legislative partnership, after their effort to stabilize Obamacare fell apart last year amid a partisan spat over abortion coverage.

Mr. Alexander decided to set aside coverage questions and focus on an area of widespread agreement — the need to tamp down the underlying costs of health care.

The new bill calls for a nationwide campaign to promote the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, as the nation grapples with alarming measles outbreaks.

The bill calls for grant-funded training to avoid discrimination or “implicit bias” among doctors who care for mothers-to-be. It also makes it easier for patients to find prices and the patent status of pharmaceutical drugs.

On surprise billing, it says patients who are stabilized in the ER should be given a heads up if they’re about to be given care from an out-of-network provider.

The patient must receive an estimate of how much the service will cost and a look at alternatives within their coverage network, according to a fact sheet on the bill.

If patients aren’t given adequate notice, they would be shielded from surprise bills or out-of-network cost-sharing.

The main insurers’ lobby, America’s Health Insurance Plans, said the proposals make sense, while budget watchdogs said the proposals should reduce costs for families, businesses and the federal government.

“At a time when many in Washington are trying to buck hard choices, senators Alexander and Murray deserve praise for taking seriously the need to control rapidly rising health care costs and putting forth sensible policies to begin this process,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “The proposals they put forward would reduce health care costs for families, businesses, and the federal government.”

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