Alexander: Amid Washington’s Turmoil, Three Senate Committees Approved Legislation to Lower Out of Pocket Health Care Costs

Posted on July 30, 2019

“Legislation to end surprise medical bills, increase transparency, and lower prescription drug costs is looking like a train that will get to the station when Congress reconvenes in September.” — Sen. Lamar Alexander

WASHINGTON, July 30, 2019 — Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today called for Congress to take up legislation to reduce the cost of health care in September.

“I often recommend that Tennesseans look at the United States Congress as if it were a split screen television set. Here’s what I mean by that: during the last month amid Washington’s turmoil—Trump vs. The Squad, Mueller testifying, impeachment votes, battles over the border, presidential candidates posturing, daily tweets—three Senate committees approved more than 80 bipartisan proposals from at least 75 senators to reduce the cost of the health care that Americans pay for out of their own pockets.”

“Legislation to end surprise medical bills, increase transparency, and lower prescription drug costs is looking like a train that will get to the station when Congress reconvenes in September,” Alexander said today in a speech delivered on the Senate floor.

“On June 26, after 17 hearings, six months of work, and recommendations from over 400 experts, our health committee, which I chair and which Senator Murray is the ranking member, voted 20-3 to recommend to the full Senate 55 proposals from 65 senators that would end surprise medical billing; increase transparency – you can’t lower your health care costs if you don’t know what your health care costs; and increase competition to reduce the cost of prescription drugs,” Alexander said.

“The next day, the Judiciary Committee reported out four proposals from 19 senators that would reduce prescription drug costs by banning anticompetitive behaviors by drug manufacturers and helping the Federal Trade Commission block those who game the citizen petition process to delay generic drugs and biosimilars. Last Thursday, the Finance Committee reported more than two dozen bipartisan proposals also aimed at reducing the cost of prescription drugs. And that is not all. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has passed its own solution to end surprise billing,” Alexander continued.

“Here is why this amount of activity on so many fronts is such a good sign,” Alexander concluded. “In our committee, what we have seen before with Fixing No Child Left Behind and the 21st Century Cures Act and last year’s response to the opioid crisis—the last of which occurred, by the way, when on the other side of the split screen TV there was the acrimonious Kavanaugh hearing—is that when so many senators and congressmen are working on an important objective in a way that its consistent with the president’s objective, that there is likely to be a result that benefits the American people.”

On the specific issue of surprise medical bills, Alexander said: “Our goal is to protect patients—not the private equity firms and companies who are taking advantage of patients. Surprise medical bills are one of the most visible problems for the 180 million Americans who get their health insurance on the job. When growing numbers of patients are receiving surprise medical bills that could bankrupt their families it is time for Congress to act.”

“If Congress cannot fix such an obvious market failure in health care, pressure will only grow for a radical federal takeover of health care that will take away private insurance from the 180 million Americans who get insurance on the job, and leave patients with less choice, fewer doctors, and worse health care.”

In June, the Senate health committee passed the Lower Health Care Costs Act by a vote of 20-3. The legislation ends surprise medical billing, lowers prescription drug prices, increases transparency, improves public health, makes electronic medical records work better, and raises the minimum age for purchasing any tobacco product from 18 to 21. The legislation also extends funding for Community Health Centers, Special Diabetes Programs, the National Health Services Corps, and the Teaching Health Centers Graduate Medical Education Program.

Click here to watch the video of Alexander’s floor speech.