The House Education and Labor Committee has called off plans to vote on legislation this week to protect patients from “surprise” medical bills because of divisions among lawmakers on the panel, according to House aides and lobbyists.
The panel had been planning to hold a markup on legislation to protect patients from getting massive medical bills when they go to the emergency room and one or more doctors treating them turn out to be outside of their insurance network, a problem that lawmakers in both parties say is a top priority.
But the push has hit fresh obstacles amid a fierce lobbying push from doctors and hospitals and disagreements about the best way to address the problem. The delay in the markup is another sign of those divisions.
The markup had not been formally scheduled, but the plan to hold it this week has been called off. It is now unclear when it will be scheduled or when lawmakers will reach an agreement.
The committee, which oversees employer-sponsored health insurance, had been planning to vote this week on legislation that was largely similar to a bipartisan bill that already passed out of the Energy and Commerce Committee, the sources said. But some lawmakers are pushing for a different approach, one that they argue works better and that treats doctors and hospitals more fairly.
“The Chairman is committed to advancing bipartisan legislation to protect patients from out of pocket medical costs,” an aide to Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said when asked about the delay.
The dispute is centered on how doctors and hospitals will be paid once patients are protected from these massive bills. The bipartisan Energy and Commerce legislation essentially sets the payment rate that an insurer would pay the doctor.
Doctors and hospitals are lobbying hard against that approach, including by spending millions of dollars in ads, warning it would lead to damaging cuts to doctors’ pay.
Doctors are pushing instead to have an outside arbiter help set the price. Lawmakers backing that approach, which has been employed in New York, include Reps. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.), Joe Morelle (D-N.Y.) and Phil Roe (R-Tenn.).
Adding to the complications for passing legislation, a third panel, the House Ways and Means Committee, is also working on legislation, which sources say they expect to be more favorable to doctors and hospitals than the Energy and Commerce approach.
It is also unclear when Ways and Means will be able to reach an agreement or hold its own markup.
“We’re continuing to work with the minority on a bipartisan solution to this enormous problem for patients, and we’re making progress,” said a Ways and Means Democratic aide.
The Senate also has bipartisan legislation, similar to the Energy and Commerce approach, but there is no clear path forward for the upper chamber to pass that measure either.