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U.S. Senate committee Oks bill aimed at lowering health costs

The U.S. Senate health committee approved a package of bills this week aimed at lowering the cost of medical care, from ending surprise medical bills to curbing prescription drug price surges, with a rare bipartisan vote that could vault it toward final passage (Source: “With Rare Comity, Senate Panel Advances Bills to Lower Health Costs,” New York Times, June 26, 2019).

The cost-cutting legislation is a priority of Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the health committee chairman who will retire next year and is seeking a victory after his bipartisan plan to stabilize the ACA insurance markets failed last year.

The new package includes a plan to eliminate surprise medical bills, which have become a hot political cause this year, targeted by President Trump and lawmakers from both parties. It also addresses the rising cost of prescription drugs, with a set of provisions that limit pharmaceutical companies’ ability to protect monopolies on the drugs they sell.

Other proposals seek to chip away at the opacity around medical prices, a goal that Mr. Trump also seized on with a new executive order this week intended to require insurers, doctors and hospitals to inform patients how much their care will cost before they receive it. The package also includes a measure from Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, to raise the smoking age in every state to 21 from 18.