by Jordan Roberts
Director of Government Affairs, John Locke Foundation
Bipartisan legislative efforts are hard to come by. Any attempt to reform America’s broken health care system is even harder. When there is a legitimate bipartisan health care reform proposal at any level of government, we should pay attention to it.
Led by the efforts of U.S. Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murphy (D-WA), a comprehensive, bipartisan health care reform package has been assembled and introduced into the committee. Sen. Alexander said he would like to have the bill through the committee in June and onto the floor in July.
The bipartisan package of reforms was crafted after a late 2018 request from the committee chairman for health care reforms that would help lower costs. A group of right-leaning health scholars from the American Enterprise Institute and left-leaning scholars from the Brookings Institution submitted a report that contained a substantial list of proposals that undoubtedly helped inform the final committee legislation. (I wrote about this report here.)
So, what made it into the bipartisan health care reform package of the 166th Congress? I will detail a few provisions from the bill in this research update.
Surprise bills are a common phenomenon. The odds are that you, or someone you know, has fallen victim to the shortfalls of insurance networks and received one of these bills. The story usually goes something like this: You need a procedure done. You find an in-network facility to complete the procedure. Your primary physician is in-network. After the procedure is completed, you receive a bill from the anesthesiologist or another specialist who was out of network, and you are stuck with a sizable bill that your insurance won’t cover. The Alexander-Murry bill proposes three different methods of dealing with surprise bills:
High prescription drugs are a significant problem for many Americans. However, the fix to this problem is not a simple one. It’s fair to say some severe shortfalls in the patent process create opportunities for drug companies to game the system and keep competitors off the market. This legislation would attempt to tackle high drug prices by promoting more competition among companies and increasing transparency. Here are a couple of targeted areas:
If you step back and think about the way Americans purchase health care services compared to every other product, it’s an odd process. Patients rely on third-parties to handle all of the administration. The patient, or consumer, has very little control over payment and negotiation. Also, there are so many aspects of behind-the-scenes health care negotiating that affect patients’ out-of-pocket costs of which they are entirely unaware. More transparency in pricing and the overall health care process would serve patients well. Here are a few ways the proposed legislation would attempt to improve transparency:
These are just a few of many reforms included in the Alexander-Murray bill. None of these reforms would be a silver bullet. Some of the proposals in the package of reforms are better than others. However, I am encouraged by the bipartisan acknowledgment of the need to take action. The health care sector is already one of the most highly regulated in the U.S. economy, so any reforms that stimulate competition and transparency should be beneficial to patients.
As the committee and floor debates concerning these issues continue, I will weigh in on them in more detail.