One of hospitals' staunchest congressional allies in the debate over surprise medical bills survived a primary challenge from a progressive mayor.
House Ways & Means Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.) defeated Holyoke, Mass., Mayor Alex Morse in a race that put surprise billing issues center stage. Neal has refused to fall in line with other House Democrats, who are working to build consensus on a ban on surprise billing that would use payment benchmarks that provider groups oppose.
Neal effectively torpedoed a bicameral, bipartisan compromise proposal in December by putting out a bare-bones outline of a bill developed in his own committee just days before an important appropriations deadline.
When Neal released the bill he wrote with House Ways & Means ranking member Kevin Brady (R-Texas) in February, hospital and provider groups lined up in support.
A progressive group called Fight Corporate Monopolies ran television advertisements accusing Neal of being cozy with corporate interests, including what the ad calls "hospital monopolies."
The American Hospital Association spent nearly $500,000 to support Neal in his race, the group's only independent expenditures so far this election cycle, according to campaign finance records. The expenditures were first reported by Politico.
Provider allies are trying to frame Neal's win as a mandate to continue advocating his surprise billing proposal, which would ban balance billing and institute a 30-day negotiation period followed by a baseball-style arbitration period if providers and insurers can't agree on payment.
"The fact that advocates of rate setting couldn't gain traction in this race says a lot about the political saliency of their position," a consultant to provider groups said.
Prospects for a surprise billing fix in Congress this year appear dim as talks on another COVID-19 relief package have stalled. Lawmakers created a deadline at the end of November for funding for community health centers and some other Medicare and Medicaid programs, but it's unclear how much motivation lawmakers will have to move on a policy that has divided powerful healthcare industry players.