How Can We Lower Healthcare Costs? Key GOP Senator Seeks Ideas

Senate health committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) plans to have his panel next year work on legislation to address high healthcare costs.

On Tuesday, the senator asked hospitals, insurers, patient groups, state regulators and think tanks to submit proposals for solutions by March 1, 2019. He sent a letter to the Brookings Institution, American Enterprise Institute and others he wants to hear from.

“I am asking for as many specific legislative, regulatory or subregulatory solutions as possible, in writing, by March 1, 2019,” Alexander said in a Tuesday speech on the Senate floor. “The federal government is not going to lower the cost of healthcare overnight, but I believe there are steps we can take that would make a real difference to American families.”

Most Washington policy experts and industry leaders don’t expect the next Congress to secure big-picture health policy overhauls since the Democrats will hold a majority in the House and the partisan disagreement over healthcare remains locked in place. Additionally, the House Democratic progressives are breaking from their party leaders to focus on universal coverage through Medicare, with a Medicare for All proposal they want to hone ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

However, smaller bipartisan measures have started gaining traction and could very well move next year. These include proposals from various cos-sponsors to end exorbitant balance bills , including Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).

Alexander and his panel’s ranking Democratic member, Patty Murray of Washington, led five informational hearings this year that probed the healthcare cost problem. Alexander in particular homed in on excessive spending in a system that consumed $3.5 trillion in 2017 and now accounts for nearly 20% of the gross domestic product.

Alexander quoted one of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee’s witnesses at a July hearing. Dr. Brent James of the National Academy of Medicine testified that 30% to 50% of the money spent on healthcare is “unnecessary.” He went on to explain how he asked the same question of other committee witnesses and failed to get a rebuttal.

“That means we are spending as much as half of all that we spend on healthcare on unnecessary treatment, tests and administrative costs,” he said.

Next year’s likely speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), has said she wants to address the cost of care, but has focused on prescription drug prices.


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