Two senators want to stop hospitals from steering patients into costlier treatments through their insurance plans, as congressional lawmakers continue on their push to end industry gaming of the healthcare system.
A bill introduced late Tuesday by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) would ban health systems from using their insurer contracts to keep people from opting for less expensive treatment from a competitor. Currently, dominant hospitals can leverage their market power with insurance companies to insert so-called "gag clauses" in their contracts.
The issue made headlines last November when North Carolina's Atrium Health agreed to settle two years of litigation with the Justice Department over allegations of patient steering. Just last month a federal judge in North Carolina issued the final judgment in the case.
An aide to Cassidy said that the proposed legislation "is consistent with that lawsuit in that we are trying to prevent other situations where healthcare providers (can use) their dominant market share to restrict access to price and quality information."
On Thursday, the Senate health committee will introduce its legislation to try to cut healthcare costs and clear up some of the obfuscations of the healthcare system. The package will also include a provision to end surprise medical bills
The Senate Finance Committee is also working on bills related to drug costs in Medicare Parts B and D and Medicaid, slated for release early this summer. Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said he expects to bring a bill before the panel on June 17.
Last week, the committee's Ranking Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, proposed a mandate on insurers to tell people what they would have to pay out of pocket for any in-network treatment or prescription drug.