Medical Bill Under the revisedlegislation, doctors would be prevented from sending unexpectedbills to patients who receive treatment in a hospital that acceptstheir insurance.

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If it pays off, this could be the biggest breakthrough of theyear, vis-à-vis medical bills: movers and shakers in both the Houseand Senate have reached agreement on legislation to tackle surprisemedical bills.

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That's according to The Hill, which reports that the progress comesin the form of an agreement among House Energy and CommerceCommittee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr., D-NJ, Rep. Greg Walden, R-OR,who is the top Republican on that panel, and Senate HealthCommittee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-TN.

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Related: How well is New York's surprise billing legislationworking?

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Under the revised legislation,doctors would be preventedfrom sending unexpected bills to patients who receive treatment ina hospital that accepts their insurance. The legislation would alsocreate a method to resolve related billing disputes between those doctors andinsurance companies.

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Slipped into the legislation are also provisions that wouldraise the tobacco age to 21 and increase drug pricingtransparency.

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According to the NewYork Times, "Doctors who provide care that isout-of-network for a patient's insurance will automatically be paidthe median price of in-network doctors in the area. For certainlarge claims, doctors will be allowed to appeal to an outsidearbitrator for reconsideration." Hospitals that treat patients inmedical emergencies and air ambulances would get similartreatment."

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Alexander issued a statement saying, "I do not think it ispossible to write a bill that has broader agreement than this amongSenate and House Democrats and Republicans on Americans' number onefinancial concern: what they pay out of their own pockets forhealth care." Thus, it should come as no surprise that there isstill room for agreement on details.

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Doctors and hospitals are both hitting the lobby button hardover worries that the bill could result in them receiving lessmoney. And it's not known whether the comity over the arrangementcurrently being discussed will extend to other lawmakers who mightbe more closely allied with said doctors and hospitals.

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In addition, Senator Patty Murray, the top Democrat on theSenate Health Committee, is not counted among the legislation'ssupporters—at least not yet. Helen Hare, a spokeswoman for Murray,is quoted in the report saying, "Senator Murray believes theoverall agreement takes important steps forward on a number ofissues impacting patients and families, and is working with somemembers of her caucus on concerns they still have. "She didn't wantto sign onto a press release until those were worked through."

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The backers of a rival bill have withheld full-throated supportfor the agreement, although they issued a statement that is"generally supportive," says the report. Senators Bill Cassidy,R-LA, Maggie Hassan, D-NH, and Michael Bennet, D-CO, have backed adifferent measure more to the taste of doctors. Their statementcautions that "final details" must be resolved before they canfully support it.

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They released a statement saying, "As our discussions continuearound the final details, we are encouraged that we're one stepcloser to giving patients these vital protections. Patients havewaited long enough, and we remain hopeful that we can get this doneby the end of the year."

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Marlene Satter

Marlene Y. Satter has worked in and written about the financial industry for decades.