Divisions are rising among House Democrats as they struggle to move forward with an effort to protect patients from getting massive “surprise” medical bills.
The House Education and Labor Committee was forced to delay a vote it had planned for last week because its members could not come to agreement on the legislation.
The divisions within the Democratic caucus and between the two parties threaten what was collectively seen as a rare opportunity for Congress to enact bipartisan health care legislation this year.
Lawmakers in both parties say they want to protect patients from getting large bills when they go to the emergency room and it later is revealed that one or more of the doctors there was outside their insurance network. But lawmakers have so far been unable to agree on how to do so because of a fierce lobbying blitz from doctors and hospitals concerned that one of the leading proposals would result in cuts to their payments.
At the center of the congressional debate over surprise billing is how the insurer should pay the doctor once the patient is taken out of the picture. Doctors warn that approach would lead to damaging cuts to their payments. They are pushing instead for an outside arbiter to help resolve billing disputes.
Democratic Reps. Donna Shalala (Fla.) and Joe Morelle (N.Y.) and a Republican, Rep. Phil Roe (Tenn.), all members of the Education and Labor Committee, are leading the push for arbitration.
Laura Wooster, associate executive director of the American College of Emergency Physicians, said the delay of the committee vote is helpful in giving the group more time to push for its favored approach.
“It provides more time for us to educate members of the committee,” Wooster said.
Meanwhile, the House Ways and Means Committee appears to be the farthest behind of the three committees and does not have a timeline for producing the bill that it is working on.
“We want to get it right, that’s the most important thing,” committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) told reporters earlier this month.