The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee June 27 held a hearing titled “How to Reduce Health Care Costs: Understanding the Cost of Health Care in America.” The hearing is a first in a planned series of hearings to examine health care costs, which will include a hearing on administrative costs, waste, how to improve transparency, and private sector solutions.
Hearing witnesses included Melinda Buntin, PhD, Mike Curb Professor and Chair, Department of Health Policy, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine; Ashish Jha, MD, MPH, Director, Harvard Global Health Institute, K.T. Li Professor and Senior Associate Dean, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Niall Brennan, MPP, President and Executive Director, Health Care Cost Institute; and David Hyman, MD, JD, Professor, Georgetown University Law Center.
In his opening remarks, Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) recapped committee hearings on four areas of health care spending – prescription drugs, wellness programs, electronic health records, and the 340B Drug Pricing Program. Opening the hearing, Sen. Alexander said, “Now, the Committee is going to focus on ways to reduce health care costs, and before we come up with solutions, we must identify the drivers of health care spending…The average American is shocked by the cost of their health care, they don’t understand what they are being charged for and why it costs so much, and they want better answers.”
Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) focused her opening remarks on the administration and the partisan nature of the issue, saying “I want to be clear that we can’t talk about higher health care costs in our country today without acknowledging the elephant in the room, which is that President Trump has dramatically increased them, and that what’s desperately needed, in the near term, is for Republican leaders to set aside tired, partisan political fights over health care, and allow us to work together on the kinds of policies we were all able to agree on just months ago that could have made such a significant difference for families nationwide who struggle with health care costs.”
In her opening statement, Dr. Buntin encouraged caution to ensure that policies are appropriate and do not harm patients, “…[E]fforts focused on the suppliers of health care are more likely to attenuate cost growth without adversely affecting health outcomes. For all of the concern about health care costs, we do have one of the most advanced health care systems in the world, albeit one that does not serve all citizens equally well. We have gleaming hospitals that employ thousands of people in communities across the country, and nearly every day brings stories of medical breakthroughs like immunotherapy. In other words, our costs are also cures, jobs, and incomes – and thus stemming their growth is not without challenges and costs of its own.”
Dr. Jha’s opening statement addressed both the strengths and challenges of the health care system, where he made three suggestions for change: ensure price transparency, promote competition, and simplify administrative burdens. Ultimately, Dr. Jha stated, “Each of these [suggestions] should be able to garner broad, bipartisan support – largely because as Americans, most of us believe in the power of transparency, competition, and reducing the burden of bureaucracy. These are achievable goals…”
The committee has not yet scheduled the next hearing in the series.