Johnson City Press: Sen Alexander says legislation will reduce health care costs
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Sen Alexander says legislation will reduce health care costs

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Jun 20, 2019 at 7:27 PM

While the two major parties in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives often battle over health care, some Democratic and Republican legislators have recently been working together to tame health care costs and surprise medical billing.

On Wednesday, Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, and Ranking Member Patty Murray, D-Washington, introduced the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019, which aims “to deliver better health care at lower cost.” The legislation includes provisions from about 16 Republican senators and 14 Democrat senators.

“This legislation 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 — you can’t lower your health care costs until you know what your health care actually costs,” Alexander said. “And third, it increases prescription drug competition to help bring more lower-cost generic and bio-similar drugs to patients.”

The two senators announced the committee will vote on the legislation on June 26.

The bill is part of a wider bipartisan push to lower costs. Last month, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, co-sponsored the Protecting People from Surprise Medical Bills Act to “protect patients from unfair and expensive surprise medical bills.”

Nearly a year ago, Alexander said Dr. Brent James from the National Academies testified before the Senate Health Committee to point out that half of what Americans spend on health care is unnecessary and put the issue in perspective for lawmakers. 

“That would mean that up to half of the $3.5 trillion the United States collectively spent on health care in 2017 was unnecessary,” the senator said. “That is $1.8 trillion — three times as much as we spend on all of our national defense, 60 times as much as we spend on Pell grants for college students and about 550 times as much as we spend on national parks. Like every American family, both Democrat and Republican United States senators are concerned about the cost of health care.”

Washington County Democratic Party Chairperson Kate Craig said the legislative push against surprise medical billing is “long overdue.” The legislation reminded Craig of past surprise medical bills, some of which happened after a motorcycle accident in 2013 while living in Washington D.C.

“Luckily, the hospital chosen by the EMTs was located within my network, but the hospital chosen was based on my injuries and the level trauma center in which it was certified. Even still, there were surprise medical bills. All these years later, as I still undergo surgeries related to the motorcycle accident, I continue to receive surprise medical bills,” Craig said. “Patients whose main job is to recover, to survive, to heal are not in a position to also effectively advocate for themselves with their health insurance company, the hospital or their elected representatives.

“I applaud their support of the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019 and hope Senator Lamar Alexander will work equally as hard to expand access to affordable and accessible health care by protecting access for marginalized communities, patients with pre-existing conditions and removing work requirements,” Craig added.

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