'Surprise' billing fix to be included in spending package

Congress will include a long-elusive ban on "surprise" medical bills as part of the $ 1.4 trillion year-end spending deal that lawmakers are expected to detail on Sunday evening.
Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.) Told the Capitol Hill press pool on Sunday afternoon that the provision was included in the expense bill, and a senior GOP adviser confirmed it.
Although major congressional committees agreed more than a week ago on a plan to protect patients from high medical costs if they are accidentally cared for outside the network, it was unclear whether this needs to be part of government funding legislation. The final decision fell on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had remained silent about the deal.
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The White House approved the plan nearly two years after President Donald Trump first urged Congress to fix an issue that raised bipartisan concern. But it was almost derailed by well-funded opposition groups and turf battles in Congress.
What's new: The details of the provision haven't been released yet, but Cassidy said it was "99 percent similar" to a compromise reached by major health committees last week. This deal challenged health insurers and care providers to negotiate most billing disputes or to bring their complaints to a mediator.
The text of the deal should appear before an expected vote on Sunday evening.
Why It Matters: In recent weeks, pressure has increased on Congress to push for surprise billing protection after two years of lobbying by powerful interest groups and political battles stalled what was originally intended as an easy fix for this Congress .
Efforts looked as good as dead earlier this month after another round of talks failed to get House Ways and Means Committee chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.) On board with a proposal other congressional committees referred to last year Year had agreed. Talks resumed, however, after House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi redoubled her efforts to get Neal's support.
For those who support the surprise billing ban, the must-pass omnibus is the last obvious opportunity to move legislation forward. Two of the top Republican champions of a surprise billing revision - Senate HELP committee chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and senior House Energy and Commerce member Greg Walden of Oregon are retiring this year.
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