Congress OKs COVID-19 package that includes surprise billing fix, more provider relief money

Both the AH&LA and AAHOA released statements in support of the President’s call for bipartisan efforts to improve border security and ongoing job growth.
Congressional leaders agreed to put a provider-friendly deal to end surprise medical bills into a COVID-19 relief package. (Getty Images/Bill Chizek)

Congress approved a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package late Monday, with the bill sailing through both chambers of the legislature.

The bill was formally unveiled on Monday afternoon, and passed the House of Representatives with a vote of 359-53, The Associated Press reported. The Senate approved the bill in a 91-7 vote late Monday.

The massive, nearly 6,000-page bill came together on Sunday after months of back and forth. Congressional leaders made an agreement for a new $900 billion COVID-19 relief package that includes a provider-friendly end to surprise medical bills.

Congress is expected to pass the package alongside a spending deal to fund the government on Monday. The legislation includes money to help distribute vaccines and to boost the $175 billion provider relief fund, according to a joint statement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Schumer and Pelosi announced the inclusion of the surprise billing fix in a statement Sunday but did not give any details on the package.

The statement comes less than a week after leaders of several House and Senate committees rolled out a surprise billing compromise that was friendly to providers.

RELATED: AHA finds fault in provider-friendly surprise medical billing deal that includes arbitration

The deal would prohibit balance billing and surprise medical bills. It would also install an arbitration method where a third party settles payer-provider disputes on out-of-network charges.

The deal was a massive concession to the provider industry and a blow to insurers who favored a geographic benchmark rate for out-of-network charges.

A report in Politico said the final text includes more changes favorable to providers. Chief among them is a prohibition on the arbiter from factoring in Medicare and Medicaid rates when deciding on an out-of-network charge.

The American Hospital Association had asked for the change last week.

But the package does not have liability protection for businesses from COVID-19, another major ask of the hospital industry. Liability protection was a major sticking point alongside aid to state and local governments, but, in the end, both were dropped to get a deal in the lame-duck session.