Surprising Swings in Momentum for Surprise Medical Bills Legislation

After months of hearings and negotiations, millions of dollars in attack ads, full-court press lobbying efforts and countless rounds of negotiations, Congress appeared to be moving toward a solution to the nation’s surprise medical bill problem. Sort of.

Surprise bills, the often-exorbitant medical bills that come when a patient doesn’t realize they’ve been seen by a provider outside their insurance network, have in recent months been viewed as public enemy No. 1 on Capitol Hill.

Two committees, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, have been working on plans and announced a compromise Dec. 8. Later that week, the House Ways and Means Committee followed suit by announcing its solution, though details are few.

It’s been a heavy lift for lawmakers in both parties who are trying to balance the competing needs of powerful stakeholders, factions within their ranks and consumers stuck with high bills. With an election year fast approaching and polls consistently showing health care costs are a high priority for voters, the push for action has intensified.

Despite the rushed way some committee members announced the agreement Dec. 8 — issuing a press release on a Sunday before any official bill text was released — it’s now unlikely that Congress will consider the package before it wraps up work for the year.