The widely anticipated House vote on a federal physician antitrust bill was indefinitely postponed late last week, surprising lobbyists and raising questions about the level of support for the measure.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Campbell (R-Calif.), would give physicians the ability to collectively bargain with health plans over fees and other issues. As of last week, more than 200 House members had signed on to the bill as co-sponsors, and it was expected to pass the House.
However, the House Rules Committee, which sets the terms or rules under which a bill can be debated on the House floor, did not develop terms for the Campbell bill at the committee's May 24 meeting. Without those terms, a bill cannot come to the floor for a vote.
It's not clear why the committee did not set rules for the Campbell bill, but that didn't stop opponents of the measure from offering their own view of what happened.
They said the postponement is evidence of a reluctance by the House Republican leadership to tackle the issue without exploring it further.
"Obviously, we are pleased this bill has been delayed," said Jim Edwards, a spokesman for the Healthcare Leadership Council, which is part of a coalition lobbying against the bill. "We hope that means Congress is reconsidering this. In our opinion, it's an ill-advised piece of legislation."
The council, a permanent coalition of drug industry, health plan and hospital executives, argues that the Campbell bill is anti-consumer because it would drive up costs and premiums, which could then make insurance unaffordable for many Americans.
The American Medical Association, the bill's main proponent, was "not only disappointed, but outraged" about the delay, said Donald Palmisano, M.D., a New Orleans surgeon and AMA board trustee.
"This is not fair play," Palmisano said. "We will continue to push for this, but the longer the delay (in voting), the greater the opportunity for time to run out (this year)."