Neal Opening Statement at Markup of Surprise Medical Billing, Hospice, and Health Care Investment Transparency Legislation

Feb 12, 2020
Press Release

(As prepared for delivery)

Good morning and welcome. Today, the Committee will mark up three important bills to protect patients and encourage more transparency in our nation’s health care system. 

First, we will consider H.R. 5821, the Helping Our Senior Population in Comfort Environments (HOSPICE) Act. This bill implements more oversight for Medicare hospice providers and greater transparency for enrollees to ensure patients receive the high-quality care they deserve at the end of life.

The Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services released two alarming reports in July that identified significant deficiencies in the quality of care delivered to Medicare hospice enrollees. Almost 90 percent of hospices had at least one care deficiency between 2012 and 2016. That is unacceptable.  H.R. 5821 provides HHS with more tools to oversee hospices and to help poor-performing hospices improve. Thank you to Representatives Panetta and Reed for quickly coming together to introduce this important legislation.

Next we will consider H.R. 5825, the Transparency in Health Care Investments Act. This bill requires private equity firms that own and control medical care providers to report certain information. This transparency will shed sunlight on the impacts these investment activities may have on patient care and costs. 

Increasingly, private equity firms are investing in areas such as emergency departments, ambulatory surgery centers, trauma units, nursing homes and hospitals, as well as health insurance companies. This reporting will enable policy makers and regulators to better understand private equity’s effects on the health system. 

Finally, we will consider H.R. 5826, the Consumer Protections Against Surprise Medical Bills Act of 2020. Ranking Member Brady and I worked together for many months to craft  this bipartisan legislation that  protects patients from unexpected medical bills for out-of-network services. At the outset, we agreed that any approach must first and foremost protect the patient from these surprise bills and provide incentives for providers and health plans to sort out payment disputes on their own.  

The need to protect the patient is something I think we all agree on. But throughout this process we have asked what is the best approach? The doctors and insurance companies blame each other while the patient is caught in the middle.

 I think the legislation we have before us today is the right approach – it protects the patient, but also recognizes the private market dynamics between insurance plans and providers. 

There are two important provisions that I specifically want to highlight.   First, we have included transitional assistance through the medical expense deduction which will provide some relief from surprise medical bills for patients during the time period between this proposal becoming law and it actually being implemented through the regulatory process. 

Second, we have ensured that uninsured individuals are able to get a good faith estimate of their out-of-pocket expenses prior to a procedure – and in the event their final bill substantially differs from that estimate, they can access dispute resolution to help resolve the discrepancy. 

Surprise medical bills cause tremendous emotional and financial distress for Americans when they are already in a particularly vulnerable state.   This legislation ensures that such bills will be a thing of the past.  It will remove the patient from any billing dispute, allowing them to focus on their health instead of worrying about the potential cost of their care.

We know that once the patient is removed from the billing dispute, health plans and providers are generally able to come to a resolution on their own. However, for those instances where resolution is elusive, this legislation provides a fair and balanced approach to settle plan-provider payment issues. 

The first step is open negotiation, where the plan and provider exchange information in a way that I believe will help the parties understand what a reasonable offer is and get them to a resolution. 

But if that exercise fails, the second step is a mediated resolution process. Ranking Member Brady and I have worked to craft a process where both the provider’s offer and the plan’s offer receive equal weight. 

In addition, the resolution entity considers, but isn’t bound by, the plan’s median in-network rate. And likewise, the provider is not left in a position to disprove the adequacy of such a rate. 

My concern with giving too much weight to such a benchmark rate is that we already know insurers are looking for any way they can to pay the least amount possible. They will work to push those rates down, regardless of what it means for community providers like physicians, hospitals, and our constituents who they employ.

With no federal network adequacy standards, plans can push rates down and drop providers from networks with no consequences, leaving patients holding the bag.  

While this legislation doesn’t take on network adequacy, it is something Congress must examine. Surprise bills would be much less common if insurer networks were more robust. 

In addition, the legislation before us today does not yet address the “surprise” bills that come from insurance companies. These are bills, for example, when a patient received prior authorization only to find out later that the insurance company is going back on that agreement and sticking the patient with the bill. 

I look forward to working with Ranking Member Brady and our committee colleagues on these two issues, among others, going forward. The problem of surprise medical billing is a complex issue that has real consequences for patients. The solution Congress finds will affect every part of our nation’s health care system. As this measure moves along in the process, I intend to refine it, but I think we have a very good start before us today.  

And I am not alone in that assessment.  Many organizations are supportive of our work to protect the patients and allow a fair and balanced process between providers and insurance companies. These include consumer groups like AARP and Community Catalyst as well as the hospitals and doctors who provide care for our neighbors and are cornerstone of our communities – the Massachusetts Hospital Association, the Massachusetts Medical Society, the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, Catholic Health Association, America’s Essential Hospitals, and National Alliance of Safety Net Hospitals. 

With that, I will recognize Ranking Member Brady for the purpose of an opening statement.