Roll Call: Alexander Eyes Summer Committee Vote on Health Care Cost Bill

Posted on April 4, 2019

Roll Call: Alexander Eyes Summer Committee Vote on Health Care Cost Bill

By: Mary Ellen McIntire

Sen. Lamar Alexander is planning a vote on a package of bills seeking to curb health care costs in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee early this summer, he said Thursday in a speech on the Senate floor.

Alexander, who chairs the panel, is working with ranking member Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Finance Committee leaders Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., on legislation to lower health care costs. The two panels share jurisdiction over health issues, and the Finance Committee has been probing the cost of prescription drugs this year, although Grassley has also indicated a broader interest in health care costs.

"What I hope to do is compile the proposals that fall under the Senate health committee’s jurisdiction into a package of legislation that the committee will vote on early this summer,” the Tennessee Republican said. “We can then combine that with what the Senate Finance Committee passes, ask the leader to put it on the Senate floor, and work with the House to send legislation to the president’s desk.”

Alexander’s speech comes after two weeks of discussion among Republicans about how to approach health care ahead of the 2020 election. President Donald Trump conceded earlier this week that a vote to overhaul the 2010 health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-1152) would not occur until after next year’s election.

Alexander and Grassley have both said they want to keep their focus on costs.

“I know that the president is looking at ways to give Americans more affordable health insurance and to protect patients with pre-existing conditions, and I look forward to hearing his plan,” Alexander said. “But the truth is the cost of health insurance will not go down, or even increase more slowly, unless we lower the cost of health care.”

Alexander outlined several policy proposals that could wind up in a legislative package. One would prevent patients from receiving surprise medical bills, an issue that Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., are working on.

In his remarks, Alexander referenced more than 400 recommendations he received from outside groups for lowering health care costs, such as allowing people with health savings accounts to use money in those tax-free accounts to cover direct primary care fees or extending a proposed Trump administration rule to pass prescription drug rebates on to consumers.

Other proposals involve making health care prices and data more transparent, so consumers know how much a procedure will cost before they get it, or to spur the development of more copycat versions of biologic drugs.

Although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said earlier this week that the Senate would not consider a “comprehensive” health overhaul this year, he offered some support for the efforts of Alexander and Grassley on prescription drug prices.

House Democrats also hope to advance bills to lower drug prices this year. The Energy and Commerce Committee approved a half dozen bipartisan drug price bills on Wednesday, and the Ways and Means Committee plans to mark up drug pricing bills as early as next week.