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A Rare Capitol Hill Sighting: 2 Parties Work Together On Health Care

Photo by Jessica Marcy/KHN

The rare sound of bipartisanship was heard Tuesday at the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee.

Panel members from both parties agreed — yes, you read that right, agreed — on bills dealing with clinical laboratories, recovering payments for the Medicare Trust Fund and pediatric research, among others.

”The bills before us prove that it is indeed possible to work together for the good of the American people,” said Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich. Subcommittee chairman Joe Pitts, R-Pa., praised the collaboration of committee members Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat, and Leonard Lance, a New Jersey Republican, on a measure to help the National Cancer Institute’s efforts to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancers with high mortality rates, such as pancreatic cancer.

Predictably, the harmony stopped when it came to repealing a provision of the 2010  health law. Legislation to exclude brokers and agents fees from the calculation of the law’s medical loss ratio, a requirement that insurers spend at least 80 percent of premium dollars on health benefits, fell flat with Democrats.

A description on the committee’s website says that keeping those fees out of the mix “could force agents to leave the market or significantly limit their plan offerings, creating a level of disruption that would quickly destabilize the market and threaten the ability of insurers to continue offering plans.”

Democrats see it differently. They say the medical loss ratio has saved consumers more than $2 billion on their health insurance premiums since the health law was enacted and that any changes would reduce those premium rebates. The administration made a similar announcement Tuesday.

Even as they disagreed with Republicans,  Democrats still tried to say something nice. “I am pleased that my Republican colleagues finally have given up their endless efforts to repeal every provision in the Affordable Care Act and are engaging in a substantive discussion of its provisions,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.  “That’s a step in the right direction.” Dingell added that he was “happy to see that my Republican friends are no longer trying to take apart the Affordable Care Act.”

The GOP-controlled House has voted 33 times to repeal all or sections of the health law or to defund its implementation. The subcommittee approved all six bills before it Tuesday on voice vote.