The Senate health committee on Wednesday approved by a vote of 20-3 the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019, legislation that includes 54 proposals from 65 senators - 36 Democrats and 29 Republicans.
Chairman Lamar Alexander said, “The Lower Health Care Costs Act will reduce what Americans pay out of their pockets for health care in three major ways.
First, it ends surprise billing. Second, it creates more transparency - there are 12 bipartisan provisions that will: eliminate gag clauses and anti-competitive terms in insurance contracts, designate a non-profit entity to unlock insurance claims for employers, ban Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) from charging more for a drug than the PBM paid for the drug, and require that patients receive more information on the cost and quality of their health care. You can’t lower your health care costs until you know what your health care actually costs. And third, it increases prescription drug competition - there are 14 bipartisan provisions to help more low cost generic and biosimilar drugs reach patients.
“Altogether, this legislation will help to lower the cost of health care, which has become a tax on family budgets and on businesses, on federal and state governments. A recent Gallup poll found that the cost of health care was the biggest financial problem facing American families. And last July, this committee heard from Dr. Brent James, from the National Academies, who testified that up to half of what the American people spend on health care may be unnecessary.”
Over the last two years, the Senate health committee held 16 hearings on a range of topics related to reducing the cost of health care. In May, Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) released for discussion the Lower Health Care Costs Act. The committee received over 400 comments on that draft legislation, and last Tuesday, the committee held a hearing to gather additional feedback. Last Wednesday, the Chairman and Ranking Member formally introduced the Lower Health Care Costs Act to reduce what Americans pay out of their own pockets for health care.
Senator Alexander said, “I hope we can present [this package] to Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer for the full Senate to consider next month and would expect that other committees will have their own contributions. Since January, Senator Murray and I have been working in parallel with Senator Grassley and Senator Wyden, who lead the Finance Committee. They are working on their own bipartisan bill, which they plan to markup this summer. The Senate Judiciary Committee is marking up bipartisan legislation on prescription drug costs tomorrow. And in the House, the Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Judiciary Committees have all reported out bipartisan bills to lower the cost of prescription drugs.”
The legislation approved today included two additional provisions since the introduction of the Lower Health Care Costs Act, including legislation that will raise the minimum age for purchasing any tobacco product from 18 to 21, and the CREATES Act, legislation that will help bring more low cost generic drugs to patients by eliminating anti-competitive practices by brand drug makers.
The committee also approved the following bills today:
· Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) — The Emergency Medical Services for Children Program Reauthorization Act of 2019: This legislation will ensure that, from the ambulance to the emergency room, emergency health care providers are fully prepared to treat children, who typically require smaller equipment and different doses of medicine.
· Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) — The Poison Center Network Enhancement Act of 2019: This bill will strengthen the network of 55 poison control centers across the country, including by modernizing the communications capabilities of poison control centers so that they can more effectively help prevent and respond to toxic exposures and poisonings.