New Hampshire’s Sen. Maggie Hassan scored a big victory when the $900 billion COVID relief bill approved by congressional leadership Sunday included “surprise medical billing” legislation. Hassan and Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy, MD, have been pushing the legislation for two years.

The two released a statement Sunday night: “For far too long, our constituents have done everything right at the doctor’s office or hospital yet still found themselves stuck with surprise medical bills, sometimes to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. And frequently, they have to fight these bills at the same time they are facing a medical crisis. That’s why we teamed up two years ago to work across the aisle, find a compromise, and put an end to the outrageous and unfair practice—and we have continued this bipartisan work ever since then. We are proud that our efforts have now led to the inclusion of legislation to end surprise medical billing in this year’s government funding agreement, which will help provide significant relief to countless Americans.”

Hassan and Cassidy have been labeled a “dynamic bipartisan duo” by Jason Grumet, President of the Bipartisan Policy Center.  Last week they were joined by an eclectic group of Senators ranging from conservative John Kennedy (R-La.) to progressive Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) in a letter urging the surprise billing issue be addressed in the COVID aid deal.

Not on the list: Fellow NH Democrat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

Hassan has made this issue a high priority. During the 2019 State of the Union address, Hassan’s guest was a Seabrook, N.H. woman who received a $1,648 “surprise” bill for an out-of-network doctor’s consult during an emergency room visit. “It shouldn’t be anything the patient has to worry about,” Hassan said at a Families First forum last year. “I want people to engage in the health care system around their health care, not their bills. When you buy health insurance, you’re not supposed to be surprised by bills. That’s the whole point.”

Cassidy gave credit to Hassan for the bill’s progress last year, telling NHJournal: “Any family can get hit by an unexpectedly high medical bill they thought their insurance would cover. It doesn’t matter if they are Louisiana Republicans or New England Democrats. It takes a bipartisan approach to move legislation through Congress. We have found broad bipartisan support for our bill because this is an issue that must be solved for the benefit of all American families.”

The COVID relief package also includes:

  • $600 stimulus checks per adult and child.
  • $300 per week in enhanced unemployment insurance for 11 weeks.
  • $319 billion for small businesses, including $284 billion for loans given through the Paycheck Protection Program.
  • $25 billion in rental assistance and an extension of the eviction moratorium.
  • $13 billion in increased SNAP and child nutrition benefits.

Interestingly, Sens. Hassan and Shaheen joined a Democratic filibuster to kill a $500 billion COVID aid package in October. “There’s no reason why this urgent package couldn’t be signed into law months ago,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Sunday.