WASHINGTON — Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, took to the floor of the Senate on Wednesday to call out the dark money special interests she said have flooded states across the country, including New Hampshire, with millions of dollars’ worth of advertisements aimed at derailing efforts to end surprise medical billing.
Shaheen said the ad campaign is a consequence of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allowing special interests to spend unlimited amounts of money while remaining anonymous.
“This ad campaign is not only confusing to voters – it’s Exhibit A on how our campaign finance system is broke,” said Shaheen. “The voices of Granite Staters who are struggling to pay surprise medical bills are being drowned out — in this case — by private equity firms on Wall Street who are making billions off of the status quo.”
Shaheen’s comments came after news reports exposed the chief funders behind a group calling itself Doctor Patient Unity as TeamHealth and EnvisionHealthcare, owned by private equity groups which have bought up many of the physician staffing companies involved in surprise medical bills.
According to news reports, TeamHealth was acquired by the Blackstone Group, a private equity firm, for $6.1 billion, in 2016. KKR, another major private equity group, acquired EnvisionHealthcare for $9.9 billion in the fall of 2018.
According to Shaheen, doctors working in hospitals often contract with these companies, which handle billing and reimbursement negotiations for doctors, then charge “exorbitant, and lucrative, surprise medical bills” to the doctor’s out-of-network patients.
In her remarks, Shaheen discussed how physician staffing companies “abuse the health care system to profit off of patients.”
“First, surprise medical bills usually occur when a patient visits an in-network hospital…But the doctor who sees me is not a doctor who’s in the network of my insurance company,” said Shaheen. “So unbeknownst to me as I go into the emergency room, that doctor is what’s called out-of-network. These doctors often are working for physician staffing companies that have gone out-of-network so that they can aggressively pursue surprise bills. These physician staffing companies are also using these surprise medical bills to negotiate, to command in-network payments from insurers that are often twice as high as the average, which can result in higher insurance premiums for everyone.”
Shaheen also highlighted the personal experience of Donald and Kathy Cavallaro from Rye, who she said faced a surprise medical bill of $5,000 when the doctor performing Kathy’s emergency surgery turned out to not be covered by their insurance.
Shaheen said such stories are not that unusual.
“1 in 6 emergency room visits in New Hampshire result in a surprise bill for Granite Staters who have large employer coverage,” said Shaheen. “Nationally, the average cost of a surprise bill from an emergency room visit is more than $600. And the average surprise bill for inpatient care is over $2,000. Surprise bills like these can easily put a family budget in the red and Congress desperately needs to put a stop to them.”