The backers of alternative legislation to address the red-hot “surprise medical bill” issue just got a surprise bill of their own from the Congressional Budget Office.
According to the news source The Hill, which intercepted a CBO email to “a congressional office,” the cost of legislation designed by health care systems and physicians to taxpayers would be “double digit billions” over the next decade.
Backers of the legislation, sponsored by Reps. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) and Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), immediately cried foul, claiming that the estimate was based on flawed data.
But with bipartisian support for a measure reining in the cost of surprise medical bills, the damage may have already been done. The CBO is notorious for its objectivity, and its cost estimates are routinely accepted as reliable.
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As the Hill noted: “In contrast, the approach used in bipartisan bills that have passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Health Committee would both save more than $20 billion over 10 years, the CBO has found.”
The CBO cited a New York State law similar to the Ruiz-Roe measure that resulted in increased payments to doctors involved in surprise bills. Based on the New York experience, the CBO estimated that the added payments to physicians alone would result in an increase of $15 billion over 10 years. Roe took exception to the New York example, telling The Hill payments to physicians had fallen.
Perhaps the “consumer” bill with the best chance of making it through Congress is that proposed by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), Republican Leader of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The pair continued to turn up the heat on providers last week when they dragged private equity firms into the discussion with requests for information about staffing and emergency transportation services they owned.
The CBO report landed on Congress in the midst of bitter lobbying by both sides of the issue. So fierce has the battle become that legislators have, at least for now, backed away from any definitive action. The CBO estimate clearly swings the pendulum in favor of the Walden-Pallone bill. But whether legislators have the stomach to take on an issue that even President Trump has deemed a high priority remains to be seen.
Date: October 03, 2019