On Friday evening, Democrats and Republicans in Congress unexpectedly announced they had reached a deal on legislation aimed at stopping surprise medical bills, one of the most widely loathed and predatory features of the American health care system. The breakthrough came after nearly two years of wrangling on Capitol Hill, amid an enormous lobbying battle that pitted insurers and consumer advocates against health care providers and private equity firms. Lawmakers are hoping that the painstaking compromise will be included in the year-end spending bill that members must pass to keep the government funded before they leave town for the holidays.
It is not yet clear whether that will happen. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have backed the plan, meaning the Democrats are on board. But the legislation’s fate likely lies in the hands of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has yet to endorse it and has not shown any particular interest in addressing surprise medical bills more generally, despite the national outcry over them. Nevertheless, there are at least a handful reasons for optimism. Here’s what you need to know.